For almost a year, COVID-19 has filled the news headlines with information on respirators, face masks, and face coverings. What is the difference between them all? Do they all work the same? What is the best option for me? Lots of questions to be answered. With that said, we wanted to take an opportunity to clear the air and offer some guidance regarding face masks specifically.
While there may be some speculation on how effective face masks are, the truth is wearing a face mask has certainly helped mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and other germs. However, face masks should not get sole recognition for our declining number of cases across the US. Social distancing, avoiding crowds, remote work, and remote/hybrid school plans all have contributed greatly to the decline in COVID cases.
Everyone's facial structure is different, and, because of that, some effort should be put into selecting the face mask for you. If you find yourself fidgeting or adjusting your mask often, that is a good indication that you may not be wearing the right mask for your needs. Knowing your work environment also helps determine what face mask works best. Are you wearing PPE such as glasses, hearing protection, or face shields that may cause interference with your face mask? Do you work in hot or humid work environments where breathability is an important factor? Take the time to select a mask that works best for you and for your work environment.
Recently, there has been a lot of talk in the news about “double masking” since the CDC recently made a public statement endorsing it. Let’s not look too deep into this. The CDC is simply saying that wearing two masks is more effective than wearing one mask. While this is an extremely obvious statement, the CDC went public with their stance because businesses across the country look to them for guidance as they re-open. For the past year, the market has been flooded with 1-ply, 2-ply, 3-ply, and even 4-ply masks. Before you “double up”, look to see how many layers your mask is currently. Upgrading to a better mask can offer you the added protection you are looking for while saving you time and money.
This is a BIGGEE! NOT all face masks are considered PPE. To some people, this may seem like a play on words, but for employers, this is very important. Respirators, a specific type of in mask (e.g., N-95 masks), are considered PPE because they help mitigate risk derived from a specific hazard in the workplace. A lot goes into selecting the right PPE (i.e., respirator), including conducting fit testing for end-users, developing and administer training, and keeping proper documentation. All of this is done not only for the safety of employees, but to stay compliant with OSHA regulations. Cloth and paper face masks are not respirators and do not align to any specific OSHA regulations, and therefore do not fall under the same umbrella as PPE. Though all face masks offer barrier protection against droplets in the air caused by breathing, sneezing, coughing, etc., respirators offer a deeper level of protection from smaller airborne particulates, gases, and vapors. Cloth and paper face masks are not designed to take the place of respirators nor should they be considered a form of PPE.