As we carry on amidst the COVID 19 pandemic in Sri Lanka and are increasingly fearful of its effects, we have been bombarded with a range of masks, sanitisers and various medical accessories which are promising protection against this virus.
In this article, we will closely examine the various types of masks we see advertised and discuss their effectiveness. Masks are classified as medical masks and non-medical masks and, in another way, it can also be classified as disposable and reusable masks.
Medical grade masks (Mostly Disposable) – N95, KN95 & Regular Blue 3Ply Masks.
Almost all medical-grade masks are disposable and are supposed to be used only once. A single-use is defined as a single time in a day where you would put the mask on and then remove it. Upon removal, you are supposed to dispose of the mask and wear a fresh mask when done. Now, this is a very costly affair if you were to do it right, and therefore the medical-grade masks are recommended to be used by medical professionals.
Masks such as the N95 mask (Rs.1,000 each per use) or the KN95 (Rs.250+ per use) or the regular blue non-woven mask (Rs.30 per use) are what is recommended to medical professionals. They have maximum protection from surroundings which are high in contamination.
All these masks are made of non-woven fabric and are fundamental to its effectiveness.
These masks generally fit well and are comfortable as soon as you wear them but get difficult to wear 30 minutes into wearing it as you tend to sweat profusely inside of the mask. It can also get hard to breathe as there is a high concentration of carbon dioxide from your own breath collected inside the mask. This is why it is not recommended for use when doing any physical exercises such as jogging or even brisk walking as you tend to breathe out a lot of carbon dioxide and your body may need more than the available oxygen it gets with the mask on.
Reusable masks have flooded the market and can be found in various places from supermarkets, pharmacies to even road-side mobile vendors who sell masks like selling coconuts from a stall. Masks are so common and are found in so many varieties that you may be overwhelmed by the choice in the market. So, let us examine the masks in the reusable category.
Fabric masks come in various forms and are sold from Rs.50/- to Rs.1,000/- giving the customer various propositions from a cheap quick fix to getting caught by police to a fashion statement and to actually protect you from the virus. The main difference between the fabric masks is the fact that they are fabrics that are either woven or non-woven.
Woven fabrics are fabrics such as cotton and linen are generally very comfortable but is not going to protect you from a virus. In-fact, a droplet containing a virus can be absorbed into the fabric and can be easily exposed to the user.
Non-woven fabrics are fabrics that have been bound together with heat or glue, which minimisers the detrimental effect a contaminated droplet can bring to the wearer.
To sum up.
So fundamentally, the most effective masks are all made of non-woven fabrics. This means we must either use a medical-grade mask or a reusable mask which is made with non-woven fabric to filter against a virus.
Given that the cost of continuously using medical masks is very high, the best alternative against a virus of this nature is a reusable mask which is made up of non-woven fabric. If this mask is surrounded by cotton or a comfortable fabric, it will make it that much better when it comes to comfort. But let us not forget that it simply has to be a non-woven fabric at its core.
How to know if your mask is effective – The Candle Test
There is a simple test to check if your mask is going to protect you from the virus. That’s the candle test. Simply light up a candle and while wearing your mask, attempt to blow out the candle while it is about 6 – 8 inches from your face. If the candle goes out, the mask is not effective. If the flame stands strong, then it is doing its job!