The novel coronavirus 19 pandemic has impacted many aspects of our lives – it has changed how we travel, how we live, and even how we dress. People wearing masks was once something you would only see in the hospital, but now has become an everyday sight whenever you take a walk down the streets. I’m sure you have noticed that the masks people wear come in different shapes, sizes, and colours. So, you may think to yourself, why are there so many different types of masks? What are the differences? How are they made?
Wearing a protective face mask is an essential step in preventing the continuous spread of COVID-19. Masks are generally categorized based on how effective they are in filtering out small particles. Each type of mask offers a different level of protection and can be appropriate for anyone based on the purpose of use and the environment that person is in.
In general, there are 3 common types of masks you will see in your neighbourhood.
Reusable cloth masks are very convenient to buy and can be made through DIY. They usually come in different patterns and colours and are relatively cheap since they can be washed and reused multiple times. While cloth masks can decrease hand-to-face contact and the transmission of bacteria and viruses to other people, it does not necessarily provide much protection to yourself due to their loose fit. They tend to leave more open space allowing for leakage when you breath, and therefore are less effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19 compared to other masks. Note that they are not fluid resistant either; this means that if there is a splash of bodily fluids onto your face, the mask will not be able to protect you and there is a risk of disease transmission. That being said, wearing a cloth mask is better than wearing no mask at all. If there are no other options, cloth masks can be a reasonable choice.
3 ply surgical masks are a great option for everyday use. They are designed to provide 3 layers of protection against bacteria, viruses or other droplets of bodily fluids while also being relatively breathable. The three layers include an outer layer of blue polypropylene (PP), a middle layer of melt blown PP and an inner layer of white PP. These fibres provide exceptionally high surface area for filtration, and extra layers provide more levels of filtration. When worn properly, these masks meet the bacteria filtration efficiency standard of ≥95% filtration efficiency at 3.0 microns and particle filtration efficiency standard of ≥30% at 1.0 microns. This means 3 ply surgical masks are made to meet standards that have much higher requirements for protection against viruses. There are also different levels of surgical masks. Level 1 surgical masks meet the basic standards mentioned above, while level 2 and 3 masks have ≥98% filtration efficiency at both 3.0 and 1.0 microns. Level 3 masks provide additional protection against liquid exposure. If you are looking for a mask to wear for a trip to the grocery store, pharmacy or post office, a level 1 3 ply surgical mask would be the best choice. It offers sufficient protection without making you too uncomfortable. They are single use only and you should wear a new one each time you leave home.
N95/KN95/FFP2 masks provide similar protection against viruses but are given different names based on standards from individual countries. N95 (US standard) and KN95 (Chinese standard) masks both have a particle filtration efficiency of ≥95% at 3.0 microns. FFP2 masks (European standard) have a similar particle filtration efficiency of ≥94%. Note that N95/KN95/FFP2 masks do have slightly different standards regarding required testing agents, flow rate, inhalation resistance, etc. However, these differences are negligible in the context of protection against COVID-19. All three types of masks have five layers: 2 layers of spun-bond PP, 2 layers of melt-blown PP and one layer of hot air cotton PP. These masks provide protection against small airborne particles and fluid droplets. This implies that when worn properly, they are high effectively at protecting you from bacteria, viruses, and allergens. As a result, they are commonly used in healthcare settings. Another thing to take into consideration is that one of the drawbacks of better protection is a tighter fit. These masks are designed to offer a secure fit around the nose to minimize leakage. Some people may find it uncomfortable to breath in and certain patients with respiratory conditions may not be able to wear this. Nevertheless, these types of masks are still excellent choices to wear in public, especially if you are going to visit high-risk areas or at-risk people.
To meet these rigorous standards, specialized machinery has been developed to produce masks. These machines employ ultrasound technology and are highly automated. They usually require only one personnel to operate, which reduces human contact and risk of potential transmission of disease. There are currently three common mask-making machines on the market.
3 ply surgical mask machine is usually comprised of 2 compartments: one mask body machine and one or two ear loop welding machine(s) to attach ear loops. The mask body machine inserts nose wires and compresses three layers of PP fabric to form the body of a mask. UV sterilization and cameras for visual inspections are integrated into the automated system as well. The production capacity can reach up to 160 pieces per minute.
KN95 mask machine has compartments similar to the 3 ply surgical mask machine but compresses 5 layers of PP fabric into the mask body instead of 3. It usually has the option of substituting the ear loop welding compartment with a head strap welding compartment. This makes it possible to produce foldable KN95 masks with different styles depending on customer preference. This type of machine is often customizable such that it can produce KN95, N95 or FFP2 masks based on local demand. The production capacity can reach up to 50 (head strap) or 80 (ear loop) pieces per minute.
Cup mask machine produces N95 masks. The overall process is similar to that mentioned above, but these masks feature a molded cup design instead of a foldable layered design. They are usually attached to elastic head straps instead of ear loops. The production capacity can reach up to 60 pieces a minute.
All these machines can be linked to another packing machine so that masks can be automatically organized into bundles wrapped in plastic. The packaging is usually customizable and can be tailored to meet client demands.
While no face mask can 100% guarantee that you will not contract COVID-19 when worn, wearing masks significantly reduces the spread of the virus. However, it is important to keep in mind that this is just one of many precautionary measures, which include frequent handwashing, wearing gloves and social distancing. To protect you and your loved ones, we recommend that you follow your local public health guidelines and implement all possible safety measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.