COVID-19 left us in need of masks on a scale like never before. Cloth face coverings were the creative and economic solution for many. Being washable and reusable, they allow community members a cheap and convenient way to mask up. Let’s face it, they’re much more fashionable too! So, how do these cloth masks compare to others?
In theory, any mask worn correctly is better than no mask. In covering the mouth and the nose it prevents, to some extent, the exchange of respiratory droplets. However, the level of prevention largely depends on the type of mask. It is important to first differentiate between a non-surgical face mask and a surgical mask. Surgical masks are tested to meet certain standards and approved for clinical use. A cloth-mask would classify as a non-surgical face mask. While there is no testable standard for them, the CDC still recommends cloth masks as a mode of infection prevention in the community setting. The historical use of cloth masks and prior research shows that cloth masks are still effective in reducing infection rates.
While surgical masks are overall more effective and are considered the gold standard by the CDC, the benefits of cloth face masks should not be overlooked. In reality, most of us are not actually using our disposable masks just once. We’re throwing them back into our purses and pockets, and then fishing them out the next time we need them. This is where cloth masks have their time to shine. We can throw the dirty one we just wore in the laundry to disinfect it, and then pick up a clean one for next time. It is important to note that not all cloth masks are created equal. If you are using a cloth mask, consider the fabric, number of layers, and fit. The most effective cloth mask will have a fabric with a tight weave, multiple layers, and one that cups tightly around the face. This will most securely block your respiratory droplets from contaminating other individuals and surfaces.
If you are opting for a disposable mask, be sure to check whether it is a surgical mask or a non-surgical face mask. Surgical masks will offer the most protection, both for yourself and others. Surgical masks are tested by The American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM). They are tested for bacterial filtration, particle filtration, synthetic blood splatter, flammability, and breathability. Surgical masks are sorted into three levels, ATSM 3 offering the highest degree of protection. If you’re looking for a quality, comfortable mask, Patriot Medical Devices makes ATSM 3 surgical masks that offer the highest level of protection against particles and fluids!