The industrial world has almost come to a stop recently, and it’s gradually beginning to wake up. With the revival of our lives/practices, we might need to adopt new behaviours such as wearing face masks in public spaces. Every country is set to come up with its unique public guidance and regulation on the matter, however some countries are already requiring citizens to wear face masks in public or face penalty if not compliant.
As medical grade masks are being prioritised for healthcare workers1, many local craftswomen, craftsmen and brands began to produce small batches of the face masks out of leftover materials to meet the market demand. With that people begin to ask – “How can I choose the right face mask for me? What materials and designs will give me the best protection?”, while brands question “What are the best materials, I have available, to make a face mask with most protection?”. So, whether you are a person looking to buy a mask and you’re just not sure what to go for, or you are a person wanting to make masks for the health benefit of people around you, this Material Monday article will be useful to you.
First off, we need to start by acknowledging WHO recommendations, which should not be ignored when choosing a mask or using it.
Q: Can masks protect against the new Coronavirus?
A: “Medical masks like this one cannot protect against the new coronavirus when used alone. When you wear them, you must combine with hand hygiene and other preventive measures. WHO only recommends the use of masks in specific cases. If you have cough, fever and difficulty breathing, you should wear a mask and seek medical care. If you do not have these symptoms, you do not have to wear masks because there is no evidence that they protect people who are not sick. However, if you are healthy but you are taking care of a person who may be infected with the new coronavirus, then you should wear a mask whenever you are in the same room with that person. And remember, if you choose to wear a mask, use it and discard it properly and clean your hands with alcohol hand rub or soap and water.2” Christine Francis, Consultant, Infection Prevention and Control WHO HQ
Q: When and how should masks be used in order to protect against the new Coronavirus?
A: “Mask alone can give you a false sense of protection and can even be a source of infection when not used correctly. Before touching the mask, clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water. Inspect the mask for tears or holes. Verify which sides is the top. This is where the metal piece is. Identify the inside of the mask, which is usually the white side. Fit the mask on your face. Pinch the metal strip or stiff the edge of it. Mould to the shape of your nose. Adjust the mask on your face covering your mouth and chin, making sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask. Do not touch the front of the mask while using it to avoid contamination; if you accidentally touch it, clean your hands. To take off the mask, remove the elastics from behind, without touching the front, keeping it away from your face. Discard the mask immediately in a closed bin and clean your hands. It is important not to re-use a mask. Replace it with a new one as soon as it gets damp. And remember: the best way to protect yourself from the new coronavirus is by frequently cleaning your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.3“ Dr. April Baller, WHO Health Emergencies Programme
To summarise, the key takeaways from the answers above are that mask alone can give you a false sense of protection and can even be a source of infection when not used correctly. They also should be used alongside other preventative measures such as hand hygiene, correct process of putting the mask on, taking it off and disposing it.
Next up, we would like to explain the types, construction and filtration of face masks for the benefit of understanding how these masks can protect us and how these characteristics could be translated into locally sourced and hand-crafted masks.
What are the protective masks?
Any face mask is categorised as an example of personal protective equipment (PPE), which is used to solely protect the user from any harmful and pathogenic airborne particles, as well as, from any liquid splashes that could contaminate the face . As outlined by WHO representatives, the government and NHS, PPE needs to be further complemented by other transmission preventive methods such as social distancing and regularly washing hands.
What are the types of most commonly used protective masks?
We tend to differentiate three types of face masks:
- the surgical mask,
- the N95 respirator,
- homemade mask / locally made mask.
What are the key differentiators across the most commonly used protective masks?
In order to differentiate between the features of the most commonly used protective masks, and make this information as digestible as possible, we present a comparative table comprehensively summarising key features of each.
What is the filtration performance of different materials?
Having understood all the ins and outs of the product’s current context, we can agree that a key material feature is the filtration performance. With this in mind, to make a mindful choice of material for the mask you are going to make or a choice of mask for purchase is to conduct a comparative study of currently used materials. Below, please find a table outlining relevant elements.
What is the best construction design of a face mask?
A feature that comes second after the filtration performance, when choosing or designing a face mask, is the fit of the face mask. Its effectiveness will depend on the following elements:
- shape of the mask (is it flexible or made out of moulded shape),
- edge curvature,
- nose adjustment,
- elastic head-loops.
WHO spokespeople mention that there is no research evidence that proves masks can protect people who are not sick, however some countries have already issued regulations making it obligatory for people to wear masks in public spaces under the threat of penalty. What is more, we all naturally want to minimise our risk of exposure to the minimum, therefore demand for face masks have been growing exponentially. Subsequently, let’s reiterate most the important things to look out for when choosing or making a mask.
When choosing your mask or material to make the mask out of, the most important things to consider are filtration level, most effective combination of material layers, ease of breathability through chosen materials, and snug fit to the face, which can be optimised though fitted shape, appropriate edge curvature, malleable aluminium strip around the nose and adjustable elastic head-loops.
We hope that you have enjoyed this article. Please do not hesitate to leave us comments below with your thoughts and questions or get in touch via email@example.com. We would love to hear from you.