A Guide to Face Masks
With so many different types of face masks, it can be difficult to figure out which one is right for you during this pandemic. There are a few key categories of masks, and it is important to understand the differences between them so you can use the right mask for your circumstances. To help you out, we have created a guide to face masks for you to use.
These masks are reusable, and should be made from a washable fabric like cotton. Reusable face masks are very useful for the general public in reducing the spread of respiratory droplets from people who may be sick. Cloth face masks can help catch these droplets to stop them from spreading viruses and bacteria to others. These masks must be washed after each use to be effective. They should be made from 3 layers of a mix of breathable fabrics, or two layers with a replaceable filter. You can view instructions how to make a cloth face mask here.
Disposable Face Masks:
These masks are loose-fitting, single-use masks which are generally not TGA- or FDA-approved. Ideally, they should be made of 3 layers of non-woven fabric, with a waterproof outer layer. Disposable face masks are still very useful for the general public in reducing the spread of respiratory droplets from people who may be sick. These face masks can help catch these droplets to stop them from spreading viruses and bacteria to others. Disposable masks are a good mask to wear when going to the grocery store, getting on public transport, or going for a walk during times of peak illness. We would recommend them for most individuals and businesses outside of the healthcare sector.
Surgical Face Masks:
These masks are loose-fitting, 3-layered, TGA-approved disposable medical face masks. They should be used by medical staff to help contain any viruses, bacteria or other germs they might spread to others. Surgical face masks can catch these droplets to stop them from spreading to others. They may also provide some protection to the wearer. Surgical face masks are suitable for medical clinics and consultants, and are not normally required for the general public.
P2, N95 and KN95 Respirator Masks:
These types of face masks are called respirators. There are generally 3 different types of high-particulate respirators available: P2 masks, N95 masks and KN95 masks. P2 masks are graded according to the Australian/New Zealand standard, N95 masks according to the American standard, and KN95 masks according to the Chinese standard. However, all 3 masks achieve almost identical levels of protection. Respirators are tight fitting, generally single-use face masks that protect the wearer from air-borne particles (like viruses) by filtering them out. They are highly specialised masks. These masks are not recommended for the general public, and should only be used in medical settings or work sites where protection from airborne particles is needed.
How Often Should You Wear a Mask?
State governments have enforced different rules regarding face masks. For states where face masks are not mandatory, it is recommended that the general public wear a face mask during the pandemic whenever they are in public, particularly in crowded areas like supermarkets or trains and buses. Face masks should also be replaced every 3-4 hours when they become damp.
How to Safely Put on, Take Off and Dispose of a Face Mask
It is important you know how to put on and take off a face masks correctly. You can find helpful poster guides from the World Health Organisation on how to wear fabric masks and medical masks safely. You may need specific training to wear a face mask if you are using a P2, N95, or KN95 respirator.
To Put a Face Mask on Safely, Use the Following Steps:
Wash or sanitise your hands first
Hold the top edge of the mask with the absorbent side face you. Place the mask on over your nose and mouth, avoiding touching the front of the mask. Hook on the ear loops, or tie any straps behind your head.
Pull the bottom of the mask over your chin, and mould any nose bars to the bridge of your nose. This way the mask can cover your mouth and nose with few gaps between your face and the mask.
Replace the mask once it becomes damp (3-4 hours), and do not re-use disposable masks
To take off a mask safely, follow the following steps:
Take the mask off from behind by the straps or ear loops – avoid touching the front of the mask
Discard the mask immediately into the general waste, preferably into a closed bin. For cloth masks, place them in a sealed bag to take home to wash
Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, or a hand sanitiser
For more information on when and how to use a face mask during the COVID-19 pandemic, take a look at these resources from the World Health Organisation