The pandemic highlighted global vulnerabilities that left people everywhere scrambling to secure supplies of face masks to deter the corona virus. Although vaccines are coming to market that we hope will stop the spread and eliminate the contagion, experts anticipate that effective face mask protection is likely needed deep into 2021. That’s why organizational leaders would be wise to maintain a robust supply.
One of the challenges decision-makers face is distinguishing the right face mask for team members as subpar products are flooding the market. International Enviroguard is an established leader in personal protective clothing, and our face masks meet or exceed industry standards. The following information about face mask types, materials, ratings, and effectiveness can help you choose the best face mask for your needs.
What We Know About How COVID-19 Spreads in the Air
We know the corona virus can be inhaled through the nose and mouth, and experts generally believe airborne droplets are the primary way the contagion spreads. The CDC issued guidelines that suggest the coronavirus can be contracted when people are less than six feet apart or within about two arms’ length.
The conventional thinking behind this standard is that coughing, sneezing, singing, and talking boisterously projects contagious droplets much like an aerosol product. Experts operate under the assumption that these moist particles will be overcome by gravity before traversing six feet. But as data and anecdotal evidence about the virus accumulates, a growing number of scientists believe that social distancing strategies may be flawed. A recent article published in Scientific American suggests the sometimes-deadly virus may be able to travel farther than was initially thought.
An article written by science reporter Tanya Lewis, “How Coronavirus Spreads through the Air: What We Know So Far,” points to mounting incidents where coronavirus droplets may have been suspended in the air for lengthy periods. Lewis highlights the fact the World Health Organization (WHO) changed its guidance relating to airborne threats. The WHO concluded the virus could remain airborne for extended periods. Anecdotal evidence points to people who contracted the virus despite not breaching the six-foot social distancing policy. Cases ranging from locations such as Wuhan, China, to Washington State, point to the novel coronavirus having the ability to remain airborne and circulate through HVAC systems. This threat turns the idea of six-foot safety on its head. At the end of the day, we know with certainty that the virus has airborne transmission capabilities. How far it can travel and for how long appears to far exceed six feet.
When and Where Should You Wear a Mask?
A considerable amount of misinformation has encouraged a segment of the population to decline and reject face masks. Early reports seemed to indicate that only people with underlying health conditions and the elderly were at extreme risk. But case after case of young and healthy people dying from COVID-19 shows that people who forgo a face mask are gambling with their lives and those in their orbit. That being said, there are places and times people would be safest wearing a breathable face mask.
- Eateries: People are advised to wear masks at indoor and outdoor eateries, as well as coffee houses when moving about or when not actively engaged in eating or drinking.
- Shopping: It’s advised to put on a face mask before entering a shopping center or supermarket and to wear it during the entire shopping experience. Consider applying available sanitizer to your hands before removing the mask in your vehicle.
- Health Centers: Masks are typically required to enter a healthcare facility. It should be worn at all times unless a health professional asks you to remove it.
- Outdoors: Airborne droplets may travel beyond the six-foot standard outline by the CDC and other agencies. Factors such as wind could put people at increased risk even in outdoor landscapes such as parks and walking trails, among others. It's critical to err on the side of caution when outside.
At Work: As the examples highlighted in Scientific American highlight, the coronavirus may be able to sustain its potency and travel through air conditioning and ventilation systems. This means that social distancing and plexiglass dividers in office spaces may not be a sufficient deterrent. Wearing a breathable mask when at work is strongly encouraged.
The CDC urges everyone over the age of two years old to wear an effective face mask, with limited exceptions. If you are in a public setting, caring for a loved one, or have a need to be around other people and animals, protective facial coverings rank among the best defenses against COVID-19.
The limited exceptions to the CDC’s general rule included children two years old and younger, people with underlying conditions that a face mask would make breathing difficult, and those with sensory or cognitive disorders. Understanding that we are all susceptible to contracting the coronavirus indoors and outdoors allows us to make informed decisions. But knowing the best face mask to protect your health and safety requires more detailed information.
How Big are COVID-19 Droplets?
According to the National Institute of Health research, virus particles range from 70-90 nanometers, and droplets can range from 0.5 to 20 micrometers, which is one-millionth of a meter. In practical health and safety terms, they are so small that the naked eye cannot see them.
That being said, high-quality masks are typically rated by how effective a particular product is at filtering out the smallest droplets and particles. These ratings are critical to making intelligent decisions about which type of masks are best suited for personal and workplace effectiveness. If you are thinking about ordering face masks, these are essential things to know.
What Types of Face Masks Deliver Protection?
There are four types of face masks on the market that government agencies, businesses, and individuals can order. While a great deal of information trends on social media and other platforms about which is the “best face mask,” decisions may be driven by usage, work environment, ratings, and whether you are best served by a disposable or washable product. These are the types of face masks that are employed and what everyday people need to know about them.
- N95 Varietals: There are typically two types of N95 masks — surgical and standard. This class of mask is usually made from synthetic plastic fibers. There are also KN95 models that reportedly meet Chinese regulatory standards but may not be rated in the U.S.
- Surgical: This class of face mask is often comprised of non-woven fabric that is considered effective at bacteria filtration. These are also designed to be effective breathable face masks using polypropylene material between 20 to 25 grams per square meter of density.
- Cloth with Layers: Masks made using cloth materials are widely considered effective at deterring coronavirus droplets and particles. While DIY face coverings may lend some level of protection, an effective face mask usually requires at least two layers of material. The tightness of the material’s weave is an essential standard to consider. Studies comparing aerosol filtration rates point to high-thread cotton outperforming synthetic fibers.
- Gaiters: These products are usually worn around the neck and pulled up over the mouth and nose at critical moments. These products have become popular due to their convenience. However, some reports indicate the subpar fiber tightness and the fact they hang below the mouth after potential coronavirus droplet contact can make them a liability.
Materials, tightness of weave, breathability, and effectiveness are also essential qualities in a face mask. But when selecting a mask to provide enhanced protections and slow the spread of COVID-19, decision-makers are often tasked with selecting a top-rated product. This is another key area that highlights that now all face masks are created equal.
What is BFE?
The Bacterial Filtration Efficiency (BFE) test measures how a face mask performs in terms of filtration. The test evaluates filtration materials and equipment used to defend against airborne pathogens such as the coronavirus. Face masks, surgical clothing, air filters, and other PPEs are assigned a BFE rating that indicates effectiveness. This highlights the fact that not all face masks are created equal.
Why is BFE Important When Ordering Face Masks?
The BFE rating refers directly to the particle size it can filter out and prevent from entering the user’s nose, mouth, and lungs. Face masks are considered standard protections in medical and dental fields primarily for this reason. An effective disposable and reusable face mask should post a BFE rating of 95 percent or higher.
What Exactly is an N95?
During the early stages of the pandemic, a significant emphasis was placed on the need for frontline health workers to have an ample supply of N95 respirators. These professional-grade PPEs were in short supply. However, production of these high-end products has ramped up, and they are seeing increased use among everyday people.
The N95 is a type of facepiece respirator that ranks among the highest-rated products available. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) regulates them, and they are designed to filter out 95 percent of particles that are 0.3 microns or bigger. Perhaps an easier way to understand the “N95” designation is the following.
- N: The “N” typically refers to “Non-Oil.” This means that a face mask is a viable option when no oil-based particles are present in a given environment. Others in the Respirator Rating Letter Class include “R,” which indicates Resistant to oil for up to 8 hours, and “P” for oil-proof.
- 95: The “95” designation speaks to the 95 percent efficiency rating. Other high-end products include ratings as 99 percent. A High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) quality filter delivers 99.97 percent efficiency.
The N95 mask is also designed to provide a secure fit to prevent inadvertent particles from infiltrating.
What is NIOSH Approval?
Surgical masks and N95 respirators, among others, often fall under the regulatory eyes of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. A NIOSH-approved face mask or respirator meets the rigorous assembly guidelines and is subject to laboratory evaluations under the Code of Federal Regulations (Title 42, Part 84). A NIOSH-approved product is usually labeled within the packaging, and FFR (Filtering Facepiece Respirator) is designated on the unit itself.
Why A Face Mask Fit Matters
Experts often make the point that how a mask fits you can be equally as important as the materials it’s made from and its design. That’s typically why homemade masks provide minimal protection.
Manufactured face masks that are rated and approved ensure that wearers enjoy snug-fit protection. An effective face mask should cover your nose and mouth. The best face mask comfortably covers the bridge of the nose and lays flat against the cheeks. While a mask does not necessarily have to cover the entire chin, it must enjoy a gapless fit at the bottom. If air escapes from any of these points, those may create pathways for the coronavirus to penetrate.
International Enviroguard has a long-standing reputation for producing industry-leading personal protective clothing. Since the pandemic put the lives of everyday people in harm’s way, International Enviroguard has ramped up effective face mask production. There are currently three products available for distribution.
- 3 Ply Pleated Face Mask: These latex-free pleated masks are made with a 3-ply material designed to deliver high bacterial filtration efficiency (99 percent) and maximized breathability. This mask offers a pliable nose clip that can be adjusted to ensure a snug, comfortable fit.
- Washable Cotton Face Mask: This mask comes in black, pink, white, and is a 3-ply washable product designed to meet CDC guidelines for general use and public settings. The weave of cotton and polyester materials makes it both water-resistant and reusable up to 30 times. Delivering two layers of protection, it brings nano-mesh technology to bear.
- Navy 3-Layer Cotton Face Mask: Machine washable up to 15 times, this effective face mask is comprised of 100 percent cotton and enhanced with an antimicrobial finish. It covers the mouth, nose, and chin while meeting the CDC recommendations for one-size-fits-all general use products.
If your organization needs to increase its supply of quality face masks, visit International Enviroguard to browse our selection of protective face masks.