Cloth face masks are becoming both an essential part of your outdoor attire as well as a fashion accessory.
To check the spread of COVID-19, multiple countries have either made it compulsory or recommend wearing them in public. Germany is the latest country to have made it mandatory to cover one's faces while using public transport and shopping. Fines for violation can be as high as 5000 euros. Other countries that have made it mandatory include Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bosnia, Austria, Morocco, Turkey, Poland and Jamaica. The US-based Centre for Disease Control and Prevention or popularly known as the CDC has recommended the use of cloth face masks to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
As face masks become a part of daily life, there are lots of questions about their use, reuse, cleaning and efficacy.
A cloth mask is not the same as a N 95 respirator or surgical masks that are used mainly in hospitals and industrial sites. A surgical mask as defined by the US drug regulator is a ‘loose-fitting, disposable device’. Its main aim is to create a ‘physical barrier’ between the nose and mouth of the wearer from large droplets, splashes, splatters. A surgical mask does not prevent one from breathing in gases, chemicals or smaller particles.
An N 95 mask mainly used by construction, industrial and healthcare workers is a respiratory device. Its main aim is to provides protection from majority of contaminants including small particles. An N 95 fits very closely to the face with a 95% efficiency to filter particles. For healthcare settings the main aim is to prevent specific diseases or infections.
Recommendation for the public is to use cloth face masks and not masks such as N 95 or those required by healthcare workers. A cloth face mask according to experts aims to slow or control the spread of the COVID-19 virus. However as the CDC points out a cloth mask does not protect one from exposures, its main aim is to contain spread of respiratory droplets by the wearer helping those who might have the virus from spreading it to others.
A cloth mask according to the US drug regulators can be reused. However it must be washed before each use. The CDC says a normal wash should suffice. The cloth masks must cover one's nose and chin and be fitted along the side of the face. It is recommended to be made out of breathable fabrics such as cotton and linen and include multiple layers which is to be held in place with either ties or ear loops. One should ensure they can breathe easily with no restriction. Cloth face masks should not according to US regulations be used on anyone with breathing difficulties, unconscious or those who cannot use the masks themselves or children below the age of 2.
The cloth masks however are not an answer for other control measures. In fact, the US drug regulator stresses on hand hygiene and social distancing. They recommend not touching ones eyes, nose or mouth whilst removing the face mask and washing ones hands for at least 20 seconds after handling the mask in any way ie putting on, removing or touching it. Using masks is in addition to social distancing measures such as standing at a distance and frequent cleaning especially in public places.
First Published: IST