Enabling consumers to make an informed choice.
What can I do to protect myself and others?
As governments and health authorities across the World have struggled to keep the pandemic under control, three central science-based approaches have emerged as effective in reducing the risk of transmission.
- Hand washing
- Minimizing interactions through ‘social-distancing’
- Mask wearing
What’s in a mask?
The various face coverings available to consumers have different purposes. It is important that the consumer know that they are getting, and what they are designed to do, so that they do not endanger themselves and others. For a ‘frontline’ healthcare provider who is interacting with patients that are known to be infected with COVID-19, respirators that have been fitted to the individual to ensure no leaks are beneficial. Respirators are designed to protect the wearer from infection from airborne particles. The filters on these masks are designed to remove particles of very small sizes.
In contrast with respirators, surgical masks are designed to prevent the contamination of a sterile environment from contamination by the wearer. This is accomplished by capturing aerosolized spit and mucous that might be emitted by the wearer and that may contain the virus responsible for COVID-19. In that sense they serve more as a ‘splash barrier,’ and as such do not filter down to the same level as respirator. These masks are not fit to the face and are designed for single use.
Like surgical masks, non-medical masks are intended to mitigate the spread of the virus by placing a barrier between the wearer and the surrounding environment. This barrier catches some of the expelled particle droplets of saliva and respiratory droplets. This is the kind of mask that the WHO and local health authorities are encouraging the general public to wear, to be used in conjunction with social distancing. There are some differences between non-medical and surgical masks. The non-medical masks are manufactured from commonly available materials, and currently not certified under any standards. They are also not single-use and are designed to be washed.
Although the research is constantly evolving current data suggest that the virus is mainly transmitted via airborne respiratory droplets containing the virus (see the WHO website). Droplets are much bigger than viral particles. Therefore, non-medical masks for every-day use can serve as an effective means of reducing the risk of transmission, when coupled with the practice of social distancing.
Non-medical masks: An unregulated industry
Manufacturers world-wide have been scrambling to produce enough non-medical masks to meet demand. As exposed by CTV in a recent article, this is an entirely unregulated industry with masks of varying design, construction, quality and sadly effectiveness being produced and sold everywhere, with little recourse to protect the consumer or the population at large.