Scientists say high-quality fabric face masks are needed to slow pandemic

Any face mask is better than no face mask, but that does not mean that all masks are equally effective in protecting against the virus behind COVID-19. A series of studies examined the various forms and materials of the mask to determine which are best at reducing the spread of particles, the last of which takes things a step further, urging governments to demand the use of high-quality face masks.

After several months under this pandemic, it became possible to buy low cost reusable face masks, as well as medical masks and, in some limited cases, N95 ventilators (which are being reserved for medical professionals in most places). Reusable masks vary widely and some are less effective in protecting the public than others.

There are several high quality reusable fabric face masks on the market, including those that have multiple layers of tight knit fabrics and pockets for inserting disposable filters. At the opposite end of the spectrum are inexpensive, readily available and poorly sewn facial masks that usually feature only a layer of fabric, loose stitching and an improper fit.

At this point, it was established that high-quality face masks are much better able to slow the spread of droplets in the air and protect the individuals who use them. In the US, the FDA made it clear that its main effort is initially focused on getting everyone to wear a face mask in public – any mask – but that getting people to use high quality options is ideal.

The Risk Analysis Society published a new study that focuses on this aspect of reducing the spread of COVID-19, noting that the use of non-woven cotton padding or other similar materials would make reusable masks more effective in filtering small drops that can carry the virus.

The study refers to these high quality masks as Effective Fiber Masks (EFM), citing a series of existing studies on the cost of these masks (dollars) and the amount of money (thousands of dollars) that they save the public by reducing spread of COVID-19. The growing number of surveys suggests that it may be ideal for governments to subsidize high-quality masks to eliminate inferior alternatives.

The study notes that, under an EFM policy, governments could set various performance standards for these reusable masks, giving manufacturers a standardized way to test and label their masks, while helping consumers make safer choices. Potentially, mandates requiring face masks to meet a certain minimum quality standard can be approved.

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