As the western world is slowly recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, economy is being pushed back on its feet.
And still, COVID-19 can still hurt economy pretty badly. While many businesses need to recover the losses, it is extremely important to avoid the potential necessity of a new lockdown. In order to do that, it is needed to gradually open while keeping infections to the minimum. The best way to do that is following the healthcare rules that WHO provided: washing hands, keeping distance, avoiding to go out if not strictly needed, and so on. And with more and more countries worldwide pushing to open some businesses in what some called the “Phase 2”, it is expectable that the need of face masks is going to increase considerably.
This is due to most of the workers requiring to stay in a closed environment. We expect people all over the world to start wearing face masks at work. This will both protect the businesses from risking losses by having their own staff suffering from COVID-19 internal spread, or, for those who do a lot of B2C – spread it to their own customers.
It is important to expect your fellow colleagues and every single business to follow the rules and wear masks.
Types of Masks
For the commodity of those who are not sure when it is fine to take off a mask, or when to use respirators, we have provided a table based on information from the chinese national health commission.
This will also help avoiding wasting precious and advanced respirators (which are actually harder to breathe in than lighter face masks) which can be more useful to specific workers.
As we can see from the table, a single use medical mask, together with the surgical one, are the common choice to use, and surgical masks are also recommended for those who work close to the pandemic fight.
Single use medical masks can be very cost-efficient, just like surgical mask, especially if compared with respirators.
Types of medical masks
There is a the big difference of the filtering capability between medical masks and non-medical masks.
Normally, the non-medical masks are only useful for blocking droplets. And for a virus so tricky like COVID-19, that has many different ways of transmission – including aerosol transmission – the non-medical masks are not enough in a lot of occasions in the daily life.
That’s why we will mostly talk about the medical masks.
There are three types of medical masks to use, depending on the job to be done.
Let’s see how to recognize them.
First of all, let’s discuss “Single use medical masks”, also called “medical nursing masks”: there are actually several names, but, as long as the name does not include words such as “protection” or “surgery” or “surgical”, it’s almost always going to be this type.
It can filter bacteria and aerosols, but those types of mask have no requirements for tightness, nor protection from blood.
For this reason, it is considered to be the weakest type for medical use, and should be given only to those medical workers with considerably lower risk than others.
Next is the “surgical mask”. It is the typical mask used while doing invasive surgery, so it will protect from body fluids or blood. To recognize it, you must find those exact words in the name: “Medical Surgical Mask”.
These types of mask have no requirements for tightness, and they are more commonly used.
Last is the “Medical protective Mask”, which has a specific requirement for tightness to fulfill. Furthermore, medical protective masks have three levels according to the capability to filter non oil-based particles: Level 1 is equal to FFP2/N95/KN95 (above or equal to 95% filtering), Level 2 (above or equal to 99% filtering), and Level 3 (above or equal to 99,97% filtering)
Availability of masks in the market
Since the outbreak, several sellers decided to increase drastically the prices of their masks, attempting to make a huge amount of money in the process. Some governments decided to set a fixed sale price for masks, for example Italy and Spain.
This will help stamp out those trying to make profit of a global pandemic and allow for the lower class a chance to protect themselves and others.
On the other side, some are complaining about the fact it may be outright impossible to find quality masks at the enforced price: for example, Italy set the maximum price at 0,50 €.
SinoActive cannot help but notice that now in China many of the mask manufacturers are actually providing affordable masks for less than this price tag, and it is indeed possible to supply italian pharmacies and businesses with properly made masks at a proper cost. Especially recently, thanks to the reopening of Wuhan – center of mask manufacturing in the world – there are more and more quality masks available in China, ready for export – as local demand is already satisfied.
Online sales of masks
An important portion of people will try to find their masks online, to get a better deal. Unfortunately, some sellers ship from too far, and time is usually not an option. Others will not provide products with proper CE certification or even sell cloth masks.
While vaccine is still in research status, far from being ready for production & distribution, it is inevitable to approach the masks as a part of our daily protection routine, to help both ourselves and others.
Different standards of quality
European Union uses CE certification with different standards according to the type of use of the product, like EN 140, EN 14387, EN 143, EN 149 and EN 136:
– EN 149 is the most common standard, which represents aerosol-filtering masks. The three levels include the equivalents of FFP1 (filtering of 80% of the 0.3 micron-size particles), FFP2 (filtering of 95% of the 0.3 micron-size particles) and FFP3 (filtering of 99% of the 0.3 micron-size particles).
– EN 14683 is the standard for medical equipment, also here there are three levels, depending on minimum BFE (bacteria filtration efficiency) and max transpiration (measured in PA): type I (95% BFE, 40 PA), type II (97% BFE, 40 PA) and type IIR (97% BFE, 60 PA).
USA uses two main certifications:
–ASTM F2100:19 Medical
-CFR 42-84-1995 Non-medical
Below we also provide a list of the chinese standards so you can understand them better when purchasing:
– Daily protective mask: GB / T 32610-2016
– Single use Medical mask: YY / T 0969-2013
– Medical surgical mask: YY 0469-2011
– Industrial particle proof mask (such as KN95 mask): GB 2626-2006
– Medical protective mask: GB 19083-2010
– Generic Protective Mask: FZ / T 73049-2014
In order to avoid the spread of non-certified products, China has been enforcing stricter and stricter checks and standards for exportation. For example, for non medical masks, they will need to fit the standard of China, or the standard of the country of destination, otherwise they cannot be exported.
Verifying the suppliers for your country
For example , for US If you want to make sure the mask you want to purchase has inquired the premarket submission from the FDA , you can search the registration certificate number through the following link on its official website to verify.
For Europe, if you want to verify that the CE certificate issuer is correct, you can confront the certifying entity with the list provided below:
Regulation EU 2017/745 on Medical Devices
Q: What is a simple way to recognize if my mask is good for medical use? CE certification is not enough?
A: No, CE does not imply the product is what you think it is. It just explains the product is done according to some regulations and therefore follows CE standards. Medical masks need to have written inside the name, clearly, the words “medical” or “surgical”. Masks with valve are not usually certified for medical use, because they are usually used for other kind of environments, such as in the chemical industry. To ensure that the mask is for medical use, ensure it has taken tests and it is certified for the standards of your country. For more info, check “Different standards of quality” above.
Q: Can children wear the same masks used by adults?
A: Although in theory yes, it is unadvised, because the face of a child is smaller and mask won’t be able to cover properly unless the tightness of the mask can ensure that. Since many types of masks do not have a set requirement for tightness, it is often better to purchase specific masks for children.
Q: What about EN 143? Is it a good standard for a mask?
A: No, because EN 143 stands specifically for anti-dust filters, and not masks.
Q: What China is doing to avoid unqualified masks to leave the country?
A: Besides the restrictions added constantly since the beginning of exports during the coronavirus outbreak, China prepared a specific blacklist and updates it as often as possible.
Q: Why shouldn’t I use a respirator with valves to protect myself?
A: nobody can guarantee they are 100% virus-free at all times, so it is better to use masks that prevent the spread of the virus in the environment, and not only the human-to-human direct diffusion. Respirators with valves, thanks to their filtering of the air intake, are great to protect the individual, but they are not as effective to protect others and the environment, which is more important in the long term, especially during a pandemic.
Q: How to trash my used mask?
A: Holding the masks from the ear loops will reduce the risk to infect your hands. Washing hands thoroughly is also very important just after trashing a used mask. Furthermore, the trash bin where the used masks are left should be closed at all times.