Face Mask for COVID-19: What to consider when purchasing
Finally, life is returning to a form of normality. Kids are returning to school and we can go to restaurants and other previously restricted activities. However with the uplifting of certain restrictions, and the resulting opening up of the economy, we need to remember how vitally important it is to wear a face mask. Keep in mind that the purpose of wearing a mask, as recommended by various institutions, is to prevent the wearer from infecting others, and not to protect the wearer from being infected. There are, however, certain masks that can protect you, the wearer, from being infected by COVID-19. Even so, other factors are crucial to consider when making the decision to purchase a face mask. This article will cover the various factors to consider when purchasing a mask for your protection, and the possible spreading of the virus to others. We will also look at other factors such as what is the best mask to choose if you wear glasses.
Throughout history, viral respiratory infection epidemics have killed millions and infected billions. Recently, a novel pandemic (COVID-19) has affected more than nine million people and resulted in just under half a million fatalities worldwide. Currently, there is no vaccine or effective treatment for the pandemic, therefore non-pharmaceutical interventions have been suggested in order to prevent and control the disease. These include hand-washing, respiratory hygiene, physical distancing measures and personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks. This post, as mentioned above, will focus on face masks as a non-pharmaceutical intervention.
Why Face Masks?
A primary route for COVID-19 transmission is via small respiratory droplets, and it has been established that it is transmissible from presymptomatic (being COVID-19 symptoms but not yet showing symptoms), asymptomatic (being COVID-19 positive BUT not showing symptoms) and symptomatic individuals. It is clear that public mask-wearing is effective in stopping the spread of the virus if the compliance is high and other hygiene strategies are implemented (i.e. washing of hands). As a result, many organisations including the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) suggest the use of face masks to mitigate the transmission of the COVID-19.
Filtration efficiency: Can every Face Mask protect you from COVID-19?
The short answer is NO. Different types of face masks offer different levels of protection against COVID-19. This depends on their filtration efficiency. Simply put, filtration efficiency is a measurement of the material’s resistance to bacteria or virus (usually expressed in percentage). From this definition, it is clear that the filtration efficiency depends on the face mask material AND the size of respiratory droplets, carrying bacteria/virus, we’ll discuss this in a moment.
Surgical grade N95 (FFP2) respirators and surgical masks are two examples of face masks that offer the highest level of protection to the wearer from airborne particles (i.e. as a result of COVID-19). N95 respirators do not allow for unfiltered air to be inhaled, while surgical masks do allow. Surgical masks are not classified as PPE, meaning it does not protect you efficiently from potentially infected people. Furthermore, there is a high shortage of medical masks for healthcare professionals, as a result, various health bodies and governments strictly discourage the general public from using these masks, as they are critical suppliers for frontline workers, and are scarce. Therefore, the use of cloth masks has been widely recommended during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this is to prevent viruses from being transmitted via respiratory droplets, and not so much for the wearer’s protection.
Respiratory droplets can be of various sizes and are commonly classified as aerosols (these are made of microdroplets that are smaller than 5 μm – micrometres) and droplets (larger than 5μm). In general, the larger droplets settle as a result of gravity and do not travel distances further than 1 to 2 metres. Contrary to this, aerosols (microdroplets) can remain suspended in the air for hours due to their size and play a significant role in spreading the COVID-19 infection.
Many home-made cloth masks have not been tested to international standards, thus the filtration efficiency of the masks is unknown. The eMoyo Mask filtration efficiency was assessed and measured using Staphylococcus aureus ATCC6538 aerosol bacteria strain, as per the EN 14683 international standard. The average filtration efficiency of the mask is 89%, making it a trusted mask for the prevention of COVID-19 for the wearer and others.
Thus, masks with proven efficiency can restrict the aerosols produced by humans by speaking, coughing, sneezing and even normal breathing. Another important measure to decrease the risk of airborne aerosols is by ensuring that there is always an airflow inside homes and buildings. For this reason, it is important to keep windows and doors open to ensure airflow.
Does the mask fit correctly?
It is important to note that many masks do not have elastomeric gasket fittings (such as commonly sold and available cloth masks). Essentially such masks result in gaps between the mask itself and facial contours. This is an issue of prevention relevance as the gaps result in ‘’leakage’’, thus reducing the effectiveness of the mask’s filtration. A recent study showed that even highly effective masks such as the N95 can result in decreased filtration efficiency when the mask does not fit well. Even surgical masks typically do not fit well and allow for unfiltered air to escape through the openings between the mask and the face.
With the eMoyo Mask, the straps and the design of the masks allow for completely securing the mask on your face (see image below). The mask can be adjusted for any face size and shape to ensure that the face, mouth, nose and the bottom edge under the chin are completely and securely covered. The complete fit of the mask on your face allows for significantly decreased chances of spreading and catching the infection. In addition, the complete fit will still allow for you, the wearer, to still be able to:
- breath normally,
- take deep breaths,
- move your head without shifting the mask and
- speak to loved ones without running out of breath.
Breathability. Do not suffocate.
One thing for sure is that the use of most plastic bags (if worn tightly around one’s face) would offer up to 99% protection from the virus. This is because many High-Density Polyethylene Plastic is non-porous. Porosity refers to the measurement of ‘empty’ spaces between a material. Materials with low porosity offer higher levels of protection, however, non-porous materials may make it hard and even impossible for one to breathe underneath the mask. Therefore, protection and breathability are one of the most important factors to consider when manufacturing or purchasing a face mask – as both are key in the prevention of disease and ensuring that you do not faint.
The eMoyo Mask has been found to offer good breathability conditions across individuals of various age groups. Thus allowing for comfort when wearing the mask and higher chances of keeping your mask on, as you can still breath normally. This is particularly important in younger children, we already know that it is difficult for children to keep face masks on. The inability to breath when wearing a mask at school would surely increase their chances of removing the mask.
Wear glasses? Avoid the fog.
I wear glasses – all the time. I have seen many glass-wearers in public places with the glasses all fogged up. This is normally followed by the removal of glasses from time to time to eliminate the fog or fiddling with the mask and touching it. All masks are NOT made equal. Some masks result in the fogging up of your glasses making it difficult to see and navigate the world, whilst others ensure that your glasses do not fog up.
Personalisation. Own your mask!
One of the coolest things about the eMoyo Mask is the ability to custom brand it. Besides standing out, custom branding allows family members, security guards or even children at school to always wear the right mask. One can add a school emblem, see image below, or even add a name to their mask. Uniformity might be something that you want in your business. The eMoyo Mask ensures that all employees have the same design and brand, specific to your company possibly with different names on each mask, to allow for uniformity in the workplace.
The eMoyo B~54FE Mask is a washable and reusable face mask, with an increased filtration efficiency. It serves as an example of a more cost-effective and accessible piece of equipment that can facilitate the prevention of the transmission of the COVID-19 for you and your loved ones. Among its characteristics, the eMoyo Mask is a 3-ply Quadrotex microfiber polyester with a 4th ply polycotton filter which allows for a comfortable fit and better breathability, and it is manufactured by an ISO 13485 certified medical device manufacturer.
Protect yourself, those you love, your institution, your country, and the world with an eMoyo Mask.
Dr Dirk Koekemoer is a specialist in innovative Telemedicine and Medical Practice Automation. Dirk also studied computer science at UNISA for two years before he started his own business. He has many years of experience in health informatics as a General Practitioner / Programmer / Innovator / Clinical and biomedical engineering researcher / Entrepreneur and Consultant to medical device and software companies. Dirk completed his medical degree in 1994 at the University of Pretoria. He practised as a General Medical Practitioner for 8 years, held the position of emergency doctor at multiple casualty units in Canada and South Africa. He has assisted and continues to assist, surgeons with numerous surgical procedures.
Dirk is the co-author of many publications related to audiology and has presented at many local and international conferences on the subject of audiology. Dirk is the inventor of the KUDUwave audiometer and software, as well as multiple unique telemedicine medical devices currently in development.
Dirk holds the position of CEO at eMoyo, a private company that designs and develops new devices and software, specifically targeting the resolution of resource and geographic restraints in developing countries.