Face Masks…Who is being Protected?

Face Masks; Who is being protected?

The current advice is that we should be wearing face masks in enclosed public places unless exempt on medical grounds but a commonly asked question is “do the face masks protect the wearer from other people or protect other people from the wearer?”

Respiratory Protection Equipment (RPE) such as the 3M Powered Air Hood system and the JSP half face respirator are designed specifically to protect the wearer.

The relatively high filtration efficiency of FFP masks can make them difficult to breathe through, which is why some manufacturers have produced variants which have a valve included to make it easier for the wearer to breathe. The valves are designed to filter the air coming in, but not as much exhaled air is filtered going out. As a result, they are designed to protect the wearer from the environment, not the environment from the wearer.

FFP masks with valves direct the breath out in a specific direction through the valve which could affect anyone standing in front of the valve. This is why in some environment’s the wearers also wear a transparent face screen so that the wearer and others are protected against each other.

Face masks provide varying levels of protection against fluid splashes depending on their quality of construction. The main purpose is to reduce the amount of air being exhaled travelling too far away from the wearer.

The key to stopping the virus spreading is to wear face masks or face coverings that divert our breath so that if we are carrying the virus, there is less chance of spreading it to other people. Surgical face masks are constructed to specific standards whereas other types of face coverings that people buy or make are not constructed to any specific standard which meanstheir effectiveness is variable and questionable.

To be efficient and effective, a face mask needs to cover the nose, mouth and chin, with loops around the ear ensuring no gaps on any sides. This is to ensure that exhaled breath passes through the face mask to slow it down in order that it does not spread a far distance. Failing to cover the nose is not the correct way to wear the face mask.

In light of this, does wearing a face mask protect the wearer from other people, or does wearing a face mask protect others people from the wearer? What do you think?

Jeff Pittman