Masks are now mandatory in Melbourne, Australia and the Premier of NSW recommends using a mask when social distancing isn’t possible. That, of course, is what I’ve been doing all along. But when you start looking for a mask, you’ll find many options which will make you wonder ‘What kind of Mask Should I Buy for Covid-19 Protection?’
I wondered the same thing months ago and did my research. A summary of the pertinent points follows. But first let’s answer the question of why the advice here has changed.
Why has the advice on mask wearing in Australia changed?
The main reason is that we are now seeing community transmission rising rapidly in Victoria and popping up in NSW, so we need more tools in our arsenal for protection, and as it says in a a Victorian Government press release, “Studies have recently shown that, even when factoring in imperfections and human error, wearing face masks can reduce transmission of coronavirus by around 60 per cent.”
A preliminary analysis of 194 countries found that places where masks weren’t recommended saw a 55 percent weekly increase in coronavirus deaths per capita after their first case was reported, compared with 7 percent in countries with cultures or guidelines supporting mask-wearing.https://www.sciencealert.com/some-masks-are-better-than-others-here-they-are-ranked-best-to-worst
If community transmission rises in other states as it has in Victoria, masks will become mandatory elsewhere as well, at least in the areas directly affected. Health officials would be negligent if they didn’t recommend their use because the science is now clear on the matter. Research indicates that masks do have a significant effect in stopping the spread of Covid-19.
‘A systematic review, commissioned by the World Health Organisation and published in The Lancet last month, looked at a slew of observational studies in order to study the extent to which physical distancing, face masks and eye protection prevent the spread of COVID-19. According to infectious diseases expert Raina MacIntyre, who spoke to the ABC’s Health Report, the review found masks reduced the risk of spread by 67 per cent, while a close-fitting protective device such as an N95 respiratory mask reduced it by more than 95 per cent.’ABC Corona Fact Check, Friday July 17th 2020.
What kind of mask will give me the best protection?
Not all masks confer equal levels of protection. The ideal face mask blocks large respiratory droplets from coughs or sneezes – the primary method by which people pass the coronavirus to others – along with smaller airborne particles, called aerosols, produced when people talk or exhale.
Though any face covering is better than none, two medical-grade masks, N99 (PM2.5) and N95 (PM2), are the most effective at filtering viral particles.
N99 / P2.5 Masks
N99 rated masks offer the greatest protection (99% of particles). These masks have carbon filters, but washing those filters decreases their effectiveness by 21%, so the filters are supposed to be replaced when they get dirty. These are the masks you need if you want to filter out bushfire smoke, air pollution and other kinds of toxins. When there’s a nasty smell, these will get rid of it. I began my quest for the best N99 mask during the Australian 2020 Bushfires. To get something attractive, comfortable and breathable, I had to make my own! I now make them for others as well.
But N99 filters are hard to breathe through, so N99 masks often/usually have valves for ease of breathing. When you breath out, the valve opens to release the exhaled air, and it closes when you breathe in, so you’re breathing through the filter. The mask protects you from external air hazards, but it doesn’t protect others that are in close proximity to you from anything you might be breathing out.
These masks with valves are still useful for Covid-19 in any situation (such as exercising) where a mask without valves would be too hard to breathe through, or in a high risk situation where top personal protection is required because others are not wearing masks.
I would never buy an N99 mask without valves as it would be extremely difficult to breathe through.
N95 / P2 masks
N95 masks filter out 95% of harmful particles. Most of these masks are designed to be disposable, but there are now washable N95 masks on the market in Australia. You can buy them on Ebay, and they’re being manufactured in Australia so there’ll be enough of them for everyone. The trouble with them is that they don’t look very good.
I figure that if we’re going to be wearing masks, we might as well wear ones that look good. My solution is to cover these N95 masks with a nice fabric, so you get a mask that is both highly effective and attractive. And that extra layer gives you another layer of protection.
Masks can filter particles as small as 0.007 microns – 10 times smaller than viruses, and much, much smaller than the PM2.5 (N99) cutoff. … Surgical masks don’t work as well as N95 masks, but they are cheaper and more readily available.Can Masks Capture Corona Virus Particles. https://smartairfilters.com/en/blog/can-masks-capture-coronavirus/
Surgical masks are a loose-fitting disposable mask that protects the wearer’s nose and mouth from contact with droplets, splashes and sprays that may contain germs. These cannot be washed or reused and should be disposed off after use. I don’t recommend them for this reason and also because they’re best left for the health professionals who need lots of them.
Cloth masks vary, since certain types are more porous than others, but data shows that DIY masks made with only a single layer of cotton clothing or a tea towel can remove around 50-60% of virus-sized particles. And in a recent paper that hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed, researchers in the UK determined that two layers of 600-thread-count cotton or two layers of chiffon might be better at filtering small particles than a surgical mask.
They also found that masks with three layers of cloth – two layers of 600-thread-count cotton with another material like silk, chiffon, or flannel – filtered more than 80 percent of small particles (less than 300 nanometres) and more than 90 percent of larger particles (bigger than 300 nanometres). That’s pretty impressive.
According to the study, the combination of cotton and chiffon offered the most protection, followed by cotton and flannel, cotton and silk, and four layers of natural silk. The researchers suggested that these options may even be better at filtering small particles than an N95 mask, though they weren’t necessarily better at filtering larger particles.
WHO recommends that fabric masks have three layers: an inner layer that absorbs, a middle layer that filters, and an outer layer made from a nonabsorbent material like polyester. That’s also the official advice here in Australia.
My cloth masks have three layers, two of cotton (no polyester because it’s really sweaty to wear) and one of interfacing (which plays the role of chiffon and also keeps the cloth off your face so you can breathe without the cloth sticking to your nose). The plain black basic and N99 masks have polyester cotton on the outside, which gives them a little more moisture protection.
So what Kind of Mask Should I Buy for Covid-19?
You will need at least two masks (one to wear while the other is drying), and if you work everyday, then I suggest at least one for every day of the week. I make three kinds. All have wire at the bridge of the nose and ear loops.
I suggest buying one basic cloth and one cloth with N95 for a start and see which you prefer.
1. Basic Cloth
Three layers of fabric. Two layers of cotton and one of interfacing, selected for good filtration and ease of breathing. The interfacing stiffens the fabric so that the mask stays off your nostrils. There’s nothing worse than having fabric stick to your nose when you breathe in.
These likely prevent 60- 90% of fine particles getting through to you and the same getting out to others. They are the easiest to wash and wear.
Click here to see all the colour options available and to order. I have these stunning aboriginal design prints available, plus other fun fabrics and plain colours.
One layer of cotton over the filter mask, which is rated at 95% filtration – CE Certified at P2 (KN95) – and made of hypoallergenic, non-glass fibre. One size fits all. Different colours available than for the above masks because the fabric has to be more porous so you can breathe easily. I recommend these if you are in a high risk category or will be in a high risk area where you need to protect others as well as yourself.
Basic cloth plus the filter and valves for ease of breathing out. 99% protection for you against others. No protection for others from you. The respirator is for those who want to wear a mask while exercising or bike riding, or who will be rubbing shoulders with non-mask wearing people.
Click here to see your colour options.
What about making my own?
If you have some scraps of material around, you can follow the Victorian Health Departments guide or take a look at the instructions I follow for making a fitted mask. Just remember that you need to balance the material’s filtering ability with your ability to breathe through it. Also if you don’t have left over bits of fabric on hand, you’ll probably find it cheaper to buy a finished fabric mask than buy good quality fabric to make your own.