Coronavirus (COVID-19) masks: Regulations, types, prices and more!
Published Sep 18, 2020 • Updated Oct 23, 2020 • By Candice Salomé
Faced with the exponential increase in the number of cases of COVID-19 (coronavirus) infection, new, more restrictive measures are being introduced across the US: wearing a mask has become mandatory in many public settings, as well as in some companies and schools. But what exactly do we know about these measures? What do we risk if we don't follow them? What types of masks should we use and how long can we wear them?
We shed light on all these questions in our article!
What is the purpose of wearing a mask?
Wearing a mask limits the risk of spreading a virus, whether it's COVID-19, the flu or any other respiratory virus. It acts as a "barrier" preventing the passage of bacterial and viral particles. By wearing a mask, you protect yourself, but also and above all, others.
Since the pandemic took hold in the Unites States this past spring, masks have become mandatory in public spaces in many states, in addition to barrier gestures, the aim being to limit the risks of a second wave of the epidemic.
"The coronavirus' mode of transmission is more or less the same as that of influenza, i.e. it is transmitted from person to person during close contact (touching or shaking hands, for example) and through the air by coughing or sneezing (droplets of saliva, sputum)," explains Pierre Parneix, a medical officer and hospital practitioner in Public Health at Bordeaux University Hospital.
It is therefore important to wear a mask outside the home in order to limit the risks of contracting the Sars CoV-2 virus, or transmitting it if you are infected.
What are some of the latest measures taken regarding masks?
The measures may change as your state enters the different phases of the COVID response, so do not hesitate to consult your state or local government's website for the latest updates. To find your state's health department, click here: https://www.cdc.gov/publichealthgateway/healthdirectories/healthdepartments.html
Though there is no over-arching federal legislation requiring masks, many states and counties have passed executive orders making masks mandatory in certain indoor or outdoor settings. The CDC recommends wearing masks in the following situations:
Specific information about wearing masks in your state can be found by visiting your state's health department website: CDC - State & Territorial Health Department Websites
Are there any exceptions to wearing a mask?
The CDC does not recommend wearing a mask in the following cases:
- Children younger than 2 years old
- Anyone who has trouble breathing
- Anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without help
In some situations or for some people, wearing a mask may not be feasible, as it may exacerbate a physical or mental health condition, lead to a medical emergency, or cause a safety issue. The CDC recommends certain adaptations and alternatives to increase the possibility of wearing a mask or to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 if wearing a mask is not possible:
- People who are deaf or hard of hearing or someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expressions to communicate: consider using a clear mask, or if unavailable, consider using written communication, closed captioning, or reducing background noise to make communication possible while wearing a mask.
- People with intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental health conditions or other sensory sensitivities: wearing a mask may be challenging, they should consult with their healthcare provider for advice on wearing a mask.
- Younger children (e.g. preschool or early elementary age): wearing a mask properly and/or for an extended period of time may be difficult, wearing of masks may be prioritized at times when it is difficult to maintain a distance of 6 feet from others.
- People engaging in activities that may cause the mask to become wet (swimming at the beach or pool, etc.): a wet mask may make it difficult to breathe. For activities like swimming, it is especially important to maintain physical distance from others when in the water.
- People engaging in high intensity activities (running, weight lifting, etc.): if unable to wear a mask because of difficulty breathing, consider conducting the activity in a location with greater ventilation and air exchange (e.g., outdoors vs. indoors) and where it is possible to maintain physical distance from others.
- People working in a setting where masks may increase the risk of heat-related illness or cause safety concerns: they should consult with an occupational safety and health professional to determine the appropriate face covering for their setting. Outdoor workers may prioritize use of masks when in close contact with other people, like during group travel or shift meetings, and remove masks when social distancing is possible.
Face shields are principally used to protect the eyes. It is not yet known what level of protection a face shield provides to people nearby from the spray of respiratory droplets from the wearer. The CDC does not currently recommend use of face shields as a substitute for masks.
If wearing a mask is not feasible, such as in the case of people who are deaf or hard of hearing, wearing a face shield can be considered, though the following should be respected:
- Face shield wearers should wash their hands before and after removing it and avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth.
- Disposable face shields should only be worn for a single use and disposed of afterwards.
- Reusable face shields should be cleaned and disinfected after each use according to manufacturer instructions or by following CDC face shield cleaning instructions.
- Plastic face shields for newborns and infants are NOT recommended.
What are the penalties for not wearing a mask?
Depending on the situation and location, you may be denied services, asked to leave a business, fined, or even charged for not wearing a mask. To find out more, consult your state or county government's website.
What are the different types of masks? What are their prices? Where to buy them?
There are several types of masks for protection against coronavirus: single-use surgical (medical) face masks, reusable fabric face coverings for the general public, and N95 respirators.
All masks must be handled in the same way:
Source: Birmingham Health Partners
Surgical face masks:
Surgical face masks are designed to be normally worn in medical settings to limit the spread of infection. These are mainly intended for health care staff to wear to protect patients during surgical procedures and other medical settings. A surgical mask is considered a medical device. These masks normally have a BFE (bacterial filtration efficiency) of 95%, meaning they stop at least 95% of particles of 3 microns and larger.
Surgical masks can be worn for up to 4 hours unless they becomes wet before then, in which case they should be discarded and replaced.
These masks can be found in some grocery stores and pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens, or online, and typically cost around $0.50/unit, depending on the retailer.
The CDC recommends that people should avoid medical masks, as high demand for them is likely to put strain on supplies for frontline workers. It is also important to note that because they are not recyclable and must be disposed of after each wear, they are not very cost-effective or practical for day-to-day activities.
Masks for the general public (reusable or fabric face coverings):
This type of mask is made of fabric, is washable and reusable. They have filtering properties of at least 70% filtration of emitted particles (vs. 95% to 98% for surgical masks). They can be made by hand (see the CDC's tutorial here) or bought in shops or online. The US does not currently have any product standards for cloth face coverings as they are not a medical product, so it is important to take care in buying a mask from a reputable seller or in making one yourself in line with official guidance. WHO has advised that one use a three-layer mask, as it is thought to be more effective than a single or double layer. The CDC recommends at least two layers of fabric.
Reusable face masks are typically sold between $5 and $10/unit depending on the retailer and the fabric used. They can be found in supermarkets, pharmacies and online.
It is recommended to wash them in the washing machine for at least 30 minutes at 140°F and make sure that they are completely dry before reusing.
N95 respirators are safety masks with a very high level of filtration. The 'N95' designations means that the respirator blocks at least 95% of small particles. They also protect against potentially infectious sputum and droplets of saliva sprayed when coughing or sneezing.
These masks are not appropriate for everyday use and should be reserved for medical staff. Demand for these masks puts strain on the supply chain and diverts essential supplies from the frontline workers who need them.
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