N95 has a close facial fit and efficiently filters airborne particles. Surgical mask creates a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer and potential contaminants. Photo from Freepik
Culture Spotlight

Four types of face masks and how they can protect you from COVID-19

Not all masks are created equal. Different types of masks offer different levels of protection. By ANCX Staff
ANCX | Apr 27 2020

We all need to get used to the new normal brought by the coronavirus pandemic. This includes wearing face masks where social distancing measures are difficult to observe (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas with significant community-based transmission.

While debates on the mass use of face masks as a way to prevent COVID-19 infection are still ongoing, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) has made it a requirement. Part of its enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) is its policy on “mandatory wearing of face masks, ear loop masks, indigenous, reusable or do-it-yourself masks, face shields, handkerchiefs, or such other protective equipment” whenever an individual leaves his or her residence.

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But not all face masks are the same, and different types have their own advantages and disadvantages. Here are four types that are locally available and guidelines on using them:

 

N95 respirator

It’s a protective device designed to achieve a very close facial fit and efficient filtration of airborne particles. The edges of the respirator are designed to form a seal around the nose and mouth. N95 respirators are subjected to fluid resistance, bacterial filtration efficiency, particle filtration efficiency, breathability, and flammability tests. The reason it’s called N95 is because the respirator blocks at least 95 percent of very small (0.3 micron) test particles. When fitted properly, the filtration capabilities of N95 respirators exceed those of ordinary face masks. However, you should note that even a properly fitted N95 respirator will not completely eliminate all the risks.

Guidelines on use: Ideally, an N95 respirator should be discarded after each patient encounter and after aerosol-generating procedures. It should also be discarded when it becomes damaged or deformed; no longer forms an effective seal over the face; becomes wet or visibly dirty; breathing becomes difficult; or if it becomes contaminated with blood, respiratory or nasal secretions, or other bodily fluids from patients. N95s are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance.

 

Surgical Mask

Also called isolation, dental, or medical procedure masks, it’s a loose-fitting, disposable device that creates a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer and potential contaminants within the vicinity. Like N95, it’s tested for fluid resistance, filtration efficiency, flammability, and biocompatibility and are made in different thicknesses and with different levels of protection against liquids. These properties may also affect how easily you can breathe through the face mask and how well the surgical mask protects you. If worn properly, a surgical mask is meant to help block large-particle droplets, splashes, sprays, or splatter that may contain germs (viruses and bacteria), keeping it from reaching your mouth and nose. Surgical masks may also help reduce exposure of your saliva and respiratory secretions to others. While a surgical mask may be effective in blocking splashes and large-particle droplets, a face mask, by design, does not filter or block very small particles in the air that may be transmitted by coughing, sneezing, or certain medical procedures. Surgical masks also do not provide complete protection from germs and other contaminants because of the loose fit between the surface of the face mask and your face.

Guidelines on use: Surgical masks are not to be shared and are not intended to be used more than once. If your mask is damaged or soiled, or if breathing through the mask becomes difficult, you should remove the face mask, discard it safely, and replace it with a new one. To safely discard your mask, place it in a plastic bag and put it in the trash. Wash your hands after handling the used mask.

 

Cloth masks

As the name suggests, these masks are made of cloth or fabric so its effectivity varies mainly with the kind of material used, the design and construction, or how it was put together. CDC advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus from transmitting it to others. CDC provided easy instructions on how to make DIY cloth masks.

Guidelines on use: Cloth masks should fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face; be secured with ties or ear loops; include multiple layers of fabric; allow for breathing without restriction; and be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape. Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age two, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.

The REwear face mask developed by the DOST-PTRI underwent tests on water-repellency, bacterial filtration efficiency, particle filtration efficiency, breathability, and flammability testing.

REwear face mask

Using a water-repellent textile finishing technology, the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Textile Research Institute (DOST-PTRI) has developed specialized cloth masks that can provide protection against particulate matter (PM) or microscopic particles that are present in the air. As protection, cloth masks, especially those made of cotton, typically absorb liquid droplets, unless a finishing process is applied to it. The finishing procedure involves application of silane compounds, which are prepared into a nanosol or solution that is applied onto a natural-fiber blended textile such as cotton fabrics. By using water-repellent finishing, the liquid droplets will just slide down the REwear Face Mask. Like a surgical mask made of multiple layers, the REwear face mask is constructed with a two-piece, three to four-layer mask. Fully detachable, the first piece (outer layer) is made of water repellent fabric and the second piece (inner layer) is made of absorbent fabric. The face mask is washable up to 50 times, making it more economical in the long run. It also underwent rigid testing for water-repellency, toxicity, fluid resistance, bacterial filtration efficiency, particle filtration efficiency, breathability, and flammability following the standard protocols.

Guidelines on use: This face mask is an ideal protection for people who care for patients with respiratory infection symptoms; people visiting clinics or hospitals; workers handling food; public transport operations staff/drivers; and people in crowded or poorly ventilated places.

DOST-PTRI is calling for fabric donations in line with the production of REwear™ Face Mask. Check out this link to FAQs.

 

Sources:

Department of Science and Technology

US Food and Drug Administration

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention