This year, a pandemic has been happening since the beginning of the year around February. The virus responsible for this, the SARS-CoV-2, is a new species of coronavirus previously unknown to scientists. Unlike other coronaviruses, this one can cause a very severe illness in certain populations. The most vulnerable people include older people, immunocompromised patients, people with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, among other conditions.
Most cases are very mild or asymptomatic, with common symptoms being dry cough and sore throat. While the majority of the cases aren’t severe and the size of the percentage of severe cases is relatively smaller, the infection of too many people at once makes it a much more considerable group of cases. Healthcare centers get collapsed and overwhelmed.
This has been seen in many countries during the last several months, with the first countries to experience a severe collapse of the healthcare system being European countries like Italy and Spain. In these countries, mask mandates were a very important measure to prevent further spread of the virus.
European countries with mask mandates
As of August of this year, over one hundred countries had issued mask mandates nationwide. Two of the countries with the highest counts of confirmed cases, Brazil and the United States, decided not to make federal requirements. Until we have an effective vaccine, evidence has shown that any type of face covering, whether it’s a reusable cloth mask, surgical masks, KN95 masks, or N95 masks, with or without face shields, can limit the transmission of the coronavirus.
East Asian countries were already used to wearing face masks in public since before the pandemic began, and the first countries to establish mask mandates as a result of the coronavirus were the Czech Republic and Vietnam around March of this year. Some European countries, like Slovakia and Lithuania, have loosened their initial mandates as case numbers started to lower. In these countries with a more limited mandate, masks are usually only required in indoor spaces and on public transportation.
In the United Kingdom, a survey revealed that less than 20% of the surveyed residents wore a mask when they’re in public settings. This has led the government to impose mask requirements for supermarkets and shops in July. During the summer, France expanded its limited mask mandate to every type of enclosed public space.
You can get more information about mask mandates here.
Efficacy of different types of face masks
Different face masks can be useful in different situations. Here are the main characteristics of the three most popular face masks everyone uses today:
- N95 masks
These are also known as N95 respirators. They are a type of respirator according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health classification for respirators in the USA. They test and regulate respirators used as PPE to make sure they meet the criteria for each type of respirator in their classification system.
The respirators are classified based on their resistance to oil and minimum particulate filtration efficacy. According to this, N95 masks are non-oil based respirators that can filter at least 95% of the airborne particles in the air. This makes them effective for protection against smoke, dust, or bioaerosols like the coronavirus or the flu virus.
N95 masks have been considered the best disposable face mask for virus protection during the pandemic due to their high antiviral properties and their tight fit around the nose and mouth. This is why they’ve been prioritized for healthcare workers and first responders. Some of the most popular models include 3M N95 masks like the 3M 8210 and 3M 8511.
- Surgical masks
These are commonly known as the “regular face masks” or “medical face masks”. They are loose-fitting and disposable face masks. Unlike the N95 respirators, the fit around the face isn’t as tight, so leakage can happen. They primarily act as a physical barrier to avoid splashes or sprays from other people’s respiratory secretions from reaching the wearer’s nose and mouth, and vice versa. They can only filter out large particles, while the wearer isn’t protected from smaller ones like viruses.
Surgical masks are usually used only in healthcare settings, mainly to prevent the wearer from contaminating the air when they’re treating immunocompromised patients or to avoid contaminating a wound, among other uses.
- Reusable cloth masks
These are the only reusable face masks available today for protection during the pandemic. They only aim to avoid the spread of the virus, preventing the release of droplets from the wearer’s mouth or nose into the air.
In the beginning, this mask was very controversial, and experts first stated they weren’t useful for the virus. After several months, they’ve now been confirmed to be effective for preventing transmission, and have been the main item used during the pandemic by the general public.
Among the three face masks mentioned today, this is the least effective one for virus protection, but they’re the recommended ones to be used by the general public in situations of exposure to other people who might be infected. Medical-grade masks are now being prioritized to healthcare providers.
It’s very important to use a face covering of any type in public settings, as new waves of cases are starting to happen in many countries. You can find these protective items for sale online, with options for kids and to buy in bulk or wholesale as well. We always remind our readers to buy from reliable sources, as scams and counterfeit products have been increasing since the pandemic started, especially online.