This paper is the second in a series on the pandemic disease, COVID-19. The first paper focused on safely reopening your business. The current paper will concern the issue of face masks. These are part of PPE or personal protective equipment which has become an everyday term since the pandemic began in this country last year. It is refreshing to be able to discuss PPE without the listener’s eyes glazing over! Of course, PPE can include gloves, suits, hearing protection, face shields, hard hats, steel toed boots, and more, but this paper concerns face masks for respiratory protection.
Face Masks Primer
The face masks used to protect people from breathing in SARS-CoV-2 (the novel corona virus which causes the disease COVID-19) have included surgical masks, N-95 masks, handkerchiefs, face shields, neck gaiters, and more. None of these actually filter out the virus (which is approximately 0.1 micron in diameter), but rather, they filter out respiratory droplets that are expelled when people exhale, talk, sing, laugh, cough, sneeze, etcetera. Of the masks above, N-95s offer the best protection. The N stands for non-oil proof, so they do not work in an oily environment – anywhere there is oil in the air, typically as a mist. The 95 means that they filter out 95% of particles 0.3 micron in diameter. The particles are made from dioctyl phthalate, a chemical used to test the respirators by manufacturers. If they pass the test, the manufacturers can deem them N-95 respirators after meeting other certification requirements of NIOSH (the National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health, which is a part of the CDC, the Center for Disease Control, (www.cdc.gov). Once they meet the certification requirements, they can display N-95 labels.
How to Wear the N-95
The N-95 face mask has two straps, a lower, and an upper strap. The easiest way to put it on is to put on the lower strap first, by putting it over your head and then lowering it so it rides along the back of your neck. The upper strap is then put over your head and rests on the crown in the back. Make sure the face piece seals snugly over your nose, down your face, around your mouth, and beneath your chin. Bend the part that goes over your nose so it fits closely over the bridge and down the sides. The goal is to seal the N-95 to your face so no air comes through cracks. That way, the air will be filtered when you inhale and exhale. Which brings up a point that exhalation valves do not filter air that you exhale. Thus, if you are infected, people around you may inhale your germs. Therefore, N-95s without exhalation valves are recommended.
What if you Can’t Get an N-95?
In that case, use a surgical mask. If one is not available, use a cloth filtering mask. The other types of masks are on down the list.
How often Can I Wear the Mask?
Whatever mask you wear, just remember that they are not designed to be worn over and over. They are designed to be thrown away after each use or disinfected if that is even possible. As with everything else, consult the manufacturer.
Tell Me More about Inhalation Exposure
And that is the topic of our next paper. We will discuss airborne exposure of the virus itself and exposure to respiratory droplets. Stay tuned!
So there is a discussion of face masks and protection from the SARS-CoV-2 which causes the disease COVID-19. If you need any assistance, ESC (www.escflorida.com) is here. We have a board Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) on staff and have been providing respiratory protection services to our clients for thirty years. We have the credentials and experience to help you with your respiratory protection needs. We are just a telephone call (800-226-1735) or an e mail away (email@example.com). Contact us today!