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Mask effectiveness: Lab tests show a massive difference in capability

Mask Effectiveness

Mask effectiveness: Lab tests show a massive difference in capability

Mask effectiveness – It is hard to remember life before masks. At the very beginning of the pandemic the public were told masks weren’t necessary, but now, several months later, masks are compulsory in all indoor public spaces, as well as when travelling on public transport and in many workplaces in order to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

Once the virus hit, it didn’t take long for manufacturers to jump on the bandwagon and start selling their own masks. From gimmick designs, to fashion brands, everyone started selling masks, but what shoppers buying the masks didn’t realise was the difference in mask effectiveness.

While wearing a mask is an inconvenience, most people are complying, but individual mask effectiveness should be much more important than what it looks like and when Which? tested 15 of the most popular masks, they discovered some shocking results.

Mask effectiveness is determined by a number of factors, including the material the mask is made from, the thickness and number of layers of the material and also how it is worn, with many people still covering their mouths but not their noses. However, based on the mask alone, the study discovered that the best masks effectively blocked 99% of bacteria, whereas the least effective masks were almost totally ineffective, as they allowed 93% of bacteria to escape. This resulted in Which? branding them as ‘don’t buy’ products.

The worst three offenders were the Termin8 lightweight face mask, sold in Lloyds Pharmacy for just £2, along with the Asda white patterned face mask and Etiquette face mask which is sold in Superdrug, both costing £3. The problem with these masks is that the covering is just a single layer of fabric, meaning they are not able to effectively filter out harmful bacteria.

However, it should be pointed out that while fabric masks like these are not medical masks, they can block droplets from the wearer, which is essential if they are infected, but also asymptomatic as they may not know they are carrying and potentially spreading the virus.

Some of the retailers who were criticised in the study, have responded to the report, confirming their masks are not sold as surgical masks, but as ‘face coverings’ as recommended by the government’s guidelines.

At the opposite end of the table, two masks were awarded ‘best buys’. These were the NEQI pack of three masks sold in Ocado and Boots, along with Bags of Ethics three pack, sold by ASOS and John Lewis.

What the study showed was that the lower the filtration, the higher the breathability, meaning consumers are having to make a choice between mask comfort and mask effectiveness.

Consumers who wear glasses have complained about glasses steaming up when wearing a mask and masks for this problem were also recommended, including the ASOS, AB Mask and Medicshield’s Transparent communication mask. The report also showed masks are more effective after they have been washed.

As a result of the study, manufacturers are being urged to improve the quality and effectiveness of the masks they produce, but in the meantime it is up to the consumer to research which mask they should be wearing.

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