If I start writing about the need for wearing a protection mask, you may think I am testing your intelligence. Everyone knows why you need to wear one. So I will skip that and tell you about the many different kinds of masks you can use in your war against the viruses.
But if you are still not convinced, you can read this article on how masks can prevent the subsequent (second, third etc) waves of infection that might hit before a vaccine is introduced, by who knows when.
Different types of Virus Protection masks
Medical Disposable face mask
Also called a single-use surgical mask. This is the medical procedure mask used by dentists, doctors, and other medical staff. It is not the most effective mask you can get for virus protection. One, it is somewhat loose-fitting, another it is not made of a material which will block very small airborne particles less than 0.1 microns. It is also not for repeated use or extended use.
This single layered mask will have a metallic strip to keep the mask tight against the nose and can have parallel ties or elastic ear loops.
Though the mask may seem the same on both sides, it has a side which should face outside. Usually, it is the white side that should face the inside ie the side which touches your face; the colored side should face outside.
These masks should not be worn more than 6-8 hours and should be discarded after use, wrapped in a tightly tied plastic bag into a closed bin.
ASTM rated Surgical Masks
Some surgical masks will have a better filtration capacity than the regular ones – this will be marked on the cover. These are used by doctors, nurses and other medical staff.
ASTM F2100 is the standard in USA – this standard has levels 1,2 & 3. Level 1 has a Bacterial filtration capacity of 95%, Level 2 & 3 have a Bacterial filtration capacity of more than 98%. ASTM F2100-11 refers to fluid resistance. This is also an important criterion if you are a medical professional or tending to a patient.
Different countries have different standards for the capacities of bacterial filtration, particle filtration, and fluid resistance. EN 14683 is the standard used in Europe.
N95 /KN95 compliant disposable masks
This is a very close-fitting disposable mask and is one of the best in preventing infectious droplets from circulating. The number 95 indicates a filtration capacity of at least 95% against the particles in the air.
These masks have undergone many tests to ensure that they are unpenetrable by small airborne particles, which equals very good protection against infectious respiratory diseases.
Because of the tight seal against the nose and mouth, you may find it uncomfortable with long usage, especially if you have a breathing problem. Some models have exhalation valves which makes it easier to breathe.
Here is an article on the cdc website on what to look for in an N95 respirator mask.
Filtering Face Piece (FFP) Respirator 3 Masks
These are masks with a filtering capacity which is graded in numbers – FFP1, FFP2, FFP3. Greater the number greater the filtering, FFP3 being the greatest protector. An FFP3 mask can give you 99% protection.
It protects against microorganisms as well as oily particles and radioactive elements, chemical odors, etc. This mask should not be worn for more than 60 minutes continuously.
You can recognize the FFP masks and differentiate them with the help of the color of the bands. FFP1 mask will have a yellow elastic earloop, FFP2 mask will have a blue elastic earloop, FFP3 mask will have a red elastic ear loop. Yellow is only good enough for dust. More information can be found here.
Anti pollution face masks (PM2.5)
The anti-pollution masks (cycling masks) are usually used as protective mask against air pollution by riders. They may be marked a standard such as PM 2.5 which stands for Particulate Matter 2.5 microns.They are not as efficient as the earlier mentioned masks, because the tiny microorganisms are not kept out the filters. But they are better than not wearing a mask, definitely.
They protect from droplets which can contain the small viruses, so in effect protect us generally.
Fabric face masks
You can buy single layered as well as multilayered (as many as 6 layered) fabric facemasks from shops. These are usually used for protection against dust but nowadays for virus protection.
Highly efficient fabric masks may be made of fabric with BFE, VFE, and PFE more than 95%. They may be fitted with particle filters, and have layers with droplet protection features.
BFE refers to Bacteria Filtration Efficiency; PFE refers to Particle Filtration Efficiency; VFE refers to Virus Filtration Efficiency.
DIY Homemade facemasks
The above noted high standard masks like N95 are not really needed for a normal person who is not in direct contact with infected persons; they are usually recommended and reserved for the health professionals for fear of these masks running out. In such cases, making masks at home is recommended.
Most homemade facemasks are not super effective if you are in close vicinity of a patient with an infectious disease. But they are better than nothing and can give you a degree of protection. As the primary aim of the mask is to prevent passing of droplets from your nose and mouth to others, fabric masks can work reasonably well as protection as long as everyone is wearing them.
Homemade masks can be just a fabric folded and used to cover your nose mouth and chin or a multilayered facemask sewn with nose strips, elastic earloops, and removable filters. You can checkout more on best fabric for making masks here as well as some styles.
Taking in the shortage of high-quality masks, most people have come to depend on these DIY masks. And these homemade masks are saving lives.
This is a mask made of food-grade silicon – soft, flexible, comfortable, safe, good looking – this mask is not short of adjectives. It can be fitted with removable filters and can be washed and even boiled for disinfecting. This is a new product and sounds very promising.
This is a transparent plastic shield that covers the face and protects effectively against all splashes, sneezes, etc. These safety face shields are usually used together with masks by people who come in direct contact with infected persons.
A gas mask maybe seem like an overkill as protection against viruses but there are many who buy it. The protection is obvious, but you may find it difficult to go around with it.
General Facemask Etiquette
Always wear masks in public; this goes without saying.
Keep unused masks in an airtight box.
Clean hands after removing or cleaning the mask. Before wearing the face mask wash hands for at least 20 seconds with a disinfecting hand wash or use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol. Or use clean gloves.
The mask should be fitting on the face for full protection – ensure that the mask covers the mouth and nose completely.
Do not touch the mask after wearing it. If you have to, clean hands beforehand.
Facial hair can prevent the tightly sealed masks from being effective.
Kids below 2 should not wear masks; this is to prevent suffocation.
When you come back home, take off the mask immediately. And if possible wash the mask then and there. If not, keep in a tightly closed plastic cover separately till you can wash it.
How to remove the mask –
If it is the tie-on type unfasten the lower tie first and then unfasten the upper tie. If it has elastic ear loops, hold on to the elastic and remove it from there, rather than removing from the front touching the mask. Handle the mask only by the loops or ties.
Dispose of disposable masks in airtight plastic cover and put in a closed lid waste basket.
Clean washable masks thoroughly – hand washing is preferred to machine washing for elastic strap masks, as machine washing may loosen the elastic. Wash with soap thoroughly, rinse and then dry in the sun. If washing in the machine, use a laundry wash bag and then air dry/dry in the sunlight. Check out this post on disinfecting clothes
No mask gives 100% virus protection. Ensure that you also maintain social distancing as much as possible and keep a distance of one to two meter from others and refrain from touching eyes, nose or mouth with unclean hands.
The information contained in this article is on the basis of my reading and interpretation of many articles available online. Please refer authentic websites on the subject for more detailed information : FDA website ; Article on Cloth covering on CDC website