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Posted On: 31 May 2020 05:00 pm
Updated On: 6 June 2020 11:57 am

What type of masks can I wear to avoid coronavirus

Nabeela
Nabeela
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Masks

As the world continues to fight and try to defeat the coronavirus (COVID-19), masks are fast becoming the need of the hour, especially when outside the home and in public. Many countries, including Qatar, have made masks mandatory when stepping out of the home to protect oneself and others from this dreadful virus and its effects.

Effective from May 17, 2020, the Qatari government requires everyone to wear a mask outside of their residence except in the case when a person is alone while driving a vehicle. This decision is the latest preventive measure that Qatar has implemented to control the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the country. In case of non-compliance, the penalties include imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years and a fine of QR 200,000, or one of these two penalties.

There are a number of different types of masks available in the market today, but which one is the best? Which one is more effective against coronavirus (COVID-19)? Which one can best protect you and others?

Let’s shed some light on the different types of masks in Qatar by taking talk about which ones should be worn where when out and about. To further understand this, we will talk about the advantages and disadvantages of each type.

Types of masks: where they can be worn

There are three main kinds of masks available in Qatar: fabric mask, surgical mask, and N95 / K95 respirators.

Note: Masks do not offer absolute guaranteed 100% protection but it is an important tool that must be used in combination with standard infection prevention measures, including practicing physical distancing, avoiding touching the face, and washing or sanitising hands on a regular basis, according to the Ministry of Public Health, that has explained that countries who have enforced the use of masks in public managed the spread of the virus better than the countries that did not.

So, what mask can be worn where?

Fabric mask (non-crowded settings)

Dr. Jameela Alajmi, Senior Consultant Infectious Diseases and Executive Director Infection Prevention and Control - Hamad Medical Corporation - points out that fabric masks can be used by office workers, building workers, road workers, and of course the general public. As for people with respiratory symptoms, it is preferable to wear a medical mask and not a fabric mask.

Since the efficiency of the fabric mask can be compromised, especially if it doesn't have several layers to keep particles out, it is advised to wear them only where there are very few people and everyone maintains a distance of, at least six metres from each other, like when you are out for a walk or walking on the road from one place to another as long as there are no crowds.

Surgical mask (non-crowded settings, healthcare)

The surgical mask is the most common type of mask in Qatar and is easily available in supermarkets and pharmacies. The surgical mask can be worn in public settings where there is a distance of, at least, two metres from other people to protect yourself and others. It's Ideal for use running errands or visiting public areas such as supermarkets, pharmacies, parks, post office, offices, public transport, and more - where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.

The surgical mask should also be worn in the house if you’re sick and around other people or animals. Caregivers should use it when cleaning or disinfecting a sick person’s bedroom or bathroom.

N95 / K95 Respirator (closed area, crowded settings, healthcare)

The N95 /95 respirator is ideal in crowded settings like supermarkets, public transport and other public places that may be crowded and where social distancing is hard to maintain, because, as the name suggests, it keeps out 95% of particles.

Types of masks: advantages and disadvantages

What type of masks can I wear to avoid coronavirus?

Although the Ministry has not specified what types of masks are acceptable and which ones are not, to be used while out of the house, different establishments in Qatar have different requirements when it comes to which type of mask you can wear when entering. For example, Al Meera will not let you enter if you are wearing a fabric mask. This is their choice and we must respect that. On the other hand, some establishments may not have any issue if you enter wearing a fabric mask. Every establishment has their own personal protocols and we must adhere to them.

There are a number of different masks available in the market in Qatar. Let's discuss these masks in detail so you know which masks:

Fabric (home made / cloth) mask

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) from people without symptoms, a fabric mask can be used, in public areas where there are few people and it's easy to maintain a distance of, at least, two feet from other people. For example, when you are out to exercise. However, in crowded places like the supermarket, the fabric mask is not recommended because, unless the fabric mask has several layers, it may not offer sufficient protection from the coronavirus (COVID-19)

Research findings show evidence that fabric masks, especially those that are made up of several layers of cotton cloth have the ability to block droplet and aerosol contamination of the environment, and may reduce transmission of the coronavirus (COVID-19) to an extent.

Dr. Jameela Alajmi, Senior Consultant Infectious Diseases and Executive Director Infection Prevention and Control - Hamad Medical Corporation - states that the most important criteria for wearing a fabric mask are that:

  • It should be made of a fabric that can be washed and dried without getting damaged or changing its shape.
  • It should be secured with ear loops and include two or more layers of fabric.
  • It should allow breathing without restrictions.

Advantages

  • The fabric mask can be made at home from common everyday fabrics.
  • The fabric mask can lower the risk of people without symptoms transmitting the coronavirus (COVD-19) through speaking, coughing, or sneezing.
  • The fabric mask can be washed in the washing machine using any detergent. After putting the mask in the washing machine, hands should be washed. It is preferable to dry the mask using high temperature. (Dr. Jameela - HMC).
  • If the surgical mask or respirator is not readily available, then the fabric mask is an alternative and is better than not using any mask at all.

Disadvantages

  • The fabric mask can give people a false sense of security and protection because it is not as effective as the surgical mask or respirator.
  • While the fabric face mask may offer some protection, one 2008 study indicated that homemade face masks maybe half as effective as surgical masks and up to 50 times less effective than N95 respirators.

Surgical mask

The surgical mask is a disposable, loose-fitting face mask that is used to cover the mouth, nose, and chin. It is made up of breathable synthetic fabric and used as a protection from droplets, splashes, and sprays of saliva or secretions. Though the surgical mask covers the mouth, since it isn't tight-fitting and has loose gaps that can help germs get in, it doesn't really protect you from catching or transmitting the coronavirus (COVID-19) or any similar microbe in the air.

The typical surgical mask is usually flat and rectangular in shape with pleats or folds. There is a metal strip at the top of the mask that sits on the nose. It seals the face with the help of elastic bands around the ears or ties that can be tied behind the head.

Advantages

  • The surgical mask doesn’t require tight fitting.
  • The surgical mask is easily available and can also be found in most supermarkets.
  • It is a cheaper option.

Disadvantages

  • The surgical mask does not provide a reliable level of protection from inhaling smaller airborne particles and so is not considered adequate respiratory protection.
  • The surgical mask is not very tight-fitting, so it’s effectiveness may be compromised to some extent.
  • The surgical mask should not be worn for over 3 to 8 hours.
  • The surgical mask is for single-use and should be discarded once used.

N95 respirator/mask

The N95 respirator is a tighter-fitting mask as compared to the surgical mask and can protect you from infectious diseases like the coronavirus (COVID-19) that are caused by large droplets, sprays, splashes and has the ability to filter out 95% of tiny virus or bacteria particles. It also offers protection against inhaling dust, mist, smoke, gases and vapours. It is made up of tangled fibers that are highly effective at filtering pathogens in the air. It is usually held in place with elastic bands that either go around the head or the ears. Some types may have an attachment called an exhalation valve, which can help with breathing and the buildup of heat and humidity. The valve prevents condensation inside the mask, misting on the glasses, and helps the user breathe in and out easily.

Dr. Jameela recommends that the respirator be used by health care workers who are treating patients with infectious diseases like the coronavirus (COVID-19). Since the supply of respirators is limited all over the world, it’s most essential that healthcare workers and those on the frontline have ready access to these masks. So, these masks may not be as readily available as surgical ones.

Of course, that does not mean the general public cannot use this type of mask. They can, but, frontline workers should be given first priority.

Advantages

  • The respirator is more effective than the surgical mask when it comes to protecting against infectious diseases like the coronavirus (COVID-19) and can filter out 95% of particles.
  • The respirator can come with or without an exhalation valve that helps to breathe and protects against humidity and heat.
  • The respirator may be reusable or disposable. Some of them can even be used a maximum of 20 times.

Disadvantages

  • The respirator does not come in a one-size-fits-all. It has to be fit-tested to ensure it is used properly. It must form a proper seal otherwise its effectiveness will be compromised, and it will not offer proper protection.
  • Children and those with facial hair like beards cannot achieve a tight seal with the respirator.
  • Every time you use the respirator, it needs to be seal-checked, so maximum effectiveness can be achieved.
  • Since the respirator is tightly-fitted, it can become uncomfortable and make you feel stuffy, so it may be difficult to wear one for long periods of time.
  • The respirator is comparatively more expensive.

K95 respirator / mask

The K95 respirator is similar to the N95 respirator and has the same properties. In fact, the World Health Organisation has confirmed that the K95 and the N95 are the equivalent of each other (WHO Article 1. WHO Article 2). The only reason they go by different names is because of the country they have been certified in. The N95 is certified in the US, and the K95 is certified in China, and is comparatively more easily available. They have the same advantages and disadvantages.

What type of masks can I wear to avoid coronavirus?
Image credit: Just Nebulisers

The new mask on the block: face shield

What type of masks can I wear to avoid coronavirus?

The Fabrication Lab – or Fab Lab - Team at Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar (VCUarts Qatar) has been working with a group of fabricators and universities in the US for the past two months to produce protective face shields, supporting efforts to keep those in the frontline of the ongoing global pandemic safe.

After numerous prototypes were made and tested, the team is now producing its first shields. At the moment, the masks are being made specifically for doctors and other frontline healthcare workers who have direct interaction with patients, however, as people working in other fields may also require these face shields, the Fab Lab team have the capacity to change the design, and produce more masks.

The face shield protects the whole face along with the eyes and helps to stop people from touching their faces. It simply wraps around the forehead and covers the whole face without actually touching it and, unlike the surgical mask or the N95 respirator, which can be itchy and uncomfortable when worn for long periods of time.

That's probably why, in recent days, Doha has witnessed an increase in the demand of the face shield and goggles because they provide added protection from the coronavirus (COVID-19), and many employers want to ensure their employees are safe during the current critical period.

UPDATE June 6: WHO's new guidance on use of masks

In a media briefing on June 5, the World Health Organization's Director-General announced WHO's new guidance on the use of masks for control of COVID-19.

Medical mask

WHO advises medical masks for all people working in clinical areas of a health facility, not only workers dealing with patients with COVID-19, in areas with the widespread transmission.
In areas with community transmission, WHO advises that people aged 60 years or over, or those with underlying conditions, should wear a medical mask in situations where physical distancing is not possible.

Fabric mask

Based on academic research requested by WHO, it advises that fabric masks should consist of at least three layers of different material. Details of the materials recommended for each layer are in the new guidelines.

Use of masks by the general public in areas with community transmission

In light of evolving evidence, WHO advises that governments should encourage the general public to wear masks where there is a widespread transmission and physical distancing is difficult, such as on public transport, in shops, or in other confined or crowded environments.

However, WHO Director-General reiterates that "masks alone will not protect you from COVID-19. Masks are not a replacement for physical distancing, hand hygiene, and other public health measures. Masks are only of benefit as part of a comprehensive approach in the fight against COVID-19."

More mask related links

  1. Check out the following link to learn how to put on, use, take off and dispose of a mask properly and responsibly: https://www.iloveqatar.net/coronavirus/guideTips/how-to-put-on-use-take-off-dispose-of-a-mask
  2. For more information on whether children are required to wear a mask, please visit the following link: https://www.iloveqatar.net/coronavirus/news/masks-are-now-mandatory-in-qatar-are-children-exempted
  3. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry has fixed the prices of masks in Qatar to ensure vendors don't try to sell them at higher prices than they should be. For more information on this, please visit: https://www.iloveqatar.net/coronavirus/news/ministry-sets-fixed-price-for-selling-medical-masks-in-qatar

Do you wear a mask whenever you leave the house? What type of mask do you wear? Do let us know in our comments section. Like and share the article - it keeps us going!