What different types of face masks can protect you against the Coronavirus?
Everyday Face Masks The regulations in force in a lot of countries require everyday face masks for most public areas. An everyday face mask is a piece of cloth that completely covers the mouth and nose. It can also be a bandana or a scarf. When you exhale, it inhibits airflow. And that already significantly reduces the risk of infection for other people. So wearing an everyday mask does not serve to protect those wearing the mask from infection. It is the other way around: everyone else should be protected from the germs that may be present in the person wearing the mask. And because infected people can be carriers even before the onset of disease symptoms, virtually everyone is considered a potential virus carrier. Everyday fabric masks should be changed frequently and washed hot to prevent viruses from surviving. The logic behind the mask requirement is therefore: if everyone complies, the overall risk of infection in society will fall.
Surgical Masks The surgical mask is a mask made of rather thin paper fleece and practically the professional version of the everyday mask. It used to be worn almost exclusively in operating rooms, but can be seen almost everywhere today. Doctors and surgical assistants wear these masks primarily to prevent infecting their patients with pathogens on the operating table. When the wearer of the mask coughs or sneezes, for example, most of the droplets remain trapped in the mask. However, this only works in the long term if the mask is changed regularly and disposed of hygienically. In the operating room, the mask must be changed at least every two hours. If, on the other hand, such a mask is worn again and again, it quickly loses its function.
The wearer of the mask can protect themselves from droplet and smear infections, but only to a very limited extent. Although the virus usually enters the body through the mouth or eyes (if there are no open wounds), the hands play the most important role. The surgical mask, usefully combined with goggles, is not so much about protecting its wearer from the virus-containing droplets. Rather, they are a constant reminder not to grab your nose with your hands when it itches or rub your eyes. Meanwhile, in Corona times, doctors and nurses rarely wear simple surgical masks. In view of the pandemic, higher-quality masks with better filtering properties have become established practically everywhere in the professional sector.
Masks of protection level FFP1 are better than surgical masks, but do not provide the desired protection against viruses. These masks are intended more for craftsmen who want to protect themselves from harmful dusts and aerosols - for example, carpenters who work on a band saw with an extraction system to catch the coarser dusts. Bricklayers can also put them on before mixing cement with a trowel and stirring up some dust.
FFP2 masks are becoming more and more prevalent in the field of elderly care and nursing in Corona times.
According to German Social Accident Insurance regulations 112-190, FFP2 masks may be used for pollutant concentrations up to 10 times the occupational exposure limit (OEL). They protect against harmful water- and oil-based particles, but not against carcinogenic substances, radioactive particles, airborne biological agents of risk group 3 and enzymes. The total leakage is a maximum of 8%, at least 94% of the pollutants are filtered out of the air. Typical applications for an FFP2 mask include handling softwood, glass fibres, metal, plastics (not PVC) and oil mist. The German Robert Koch Institute (RKI) recommends FFP2 masks as well as FFP3 masks for the treatment and care of patients infected by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
According to German Social Accident Insurance regulations 112-190, FFP3 masks may be used for pollutant concentrations up to 30 times the occupational exposure limit (OEL). They protect against harmful and carcinogenic particles based on water and oil as well as against radioactive particles, airborne biological agents of risk group 2+3 and enzymes. The total leakage (leakage) is a maximum of 2%, at least 99% of the pollutants are filtered out of the air. Typical applications for an FFP3 mask include handling heavy metals, hardwood, brake dust, radioactive substances, pathogens such as viruses, bacteria and fungal spores, and stainless steel welding. The German Robert Koch Institute (RKI) recommends FFP2 masks as well as FFP3 masks for the treatment and care of patients infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
KN 95 Masks
Similar to the FFP2 masks are products with the designation "KN 95". These masks do not come with a CE marking, but can have a similar protective effect. However, they should always come with a certificate.
Double-masking means wearing two masks on top of each other: first a surgical or FFP2 mask and then a tight-fitting fabric mask on top of that, but one that fits so well that it is airtight, especially at the edges. The idea behind this: To prevent air from flowing in or out past the mask.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (CDC) has conducted trials with double-masking and concluded that it can reduce the risk of infection by another 95 percent compared to a simple mask. However, it only works if used consistently. In addition, wearing a tight-fitting double mask over a long period of time is still significantly more uncomfortable than simply wearing the mask.