The first line of defense is the use of face masks. The CDC has recommended the use of face coverings since early April to help prevent the spread of the virus, and OSHA has provided guidance on the voluntary use of face masks on the frontline. Many state and local governments have additionally implemented added requirements regarding personal protective equipment, especially face masks.
Simply put, if you’re reopening and your employees will be in any kind of proximity to one another, it’s highly recommended that they wear facemasks. But what kind of facemasks work best, how do you implement such a plan for your business, and how do you avoid counterfeits or overpaying? Let’s take a closer look.
Types of Protective Facemasks for Frontline Workers
There are effectively three types of masks: homemade cloth masks, which are recommended for the majority of the mask-wearing public when they leave their homes, 3ply masks similar to surgical masks that are designed to keep the wearer from expelling germs, and KN95 masks that are designed to block 95% of airborne particles, including viruses, from reaching the wearer.
The latter in particular should be reserved for medical workers who need them right now. Not only are they in short supply, they require special training and certification to wear properly. For mass use within a frontline facility, they would not be practical.
Homemade face masks and cloth face masks can be effective in helping employees keep germs from spreading, but there’s no way to ensure those masks have been properly made or washed before use. For many organizations, especially larger ones that are supplying thousands of masks per day, 3ply masks are the most economical and reliable option available currently.
Proper Mask Use and Protection on the Frontline
Anything short of an N95 respirator is not designed to protect the wearer from infection. We wear masks because it minimizes the spread of our own germs when talking or in the event of coughing or sneezing. As a result, the most effective way to ensure the best results from mask usage in your facility is for as many people to wear them as possible.
Studies have shown that up to 25% of people who carry the coronavirus don’t show any symptoms, and yet they could still be contagious for several days. That’s why it’s important for as many people to wear a mask as possible, to reduce the risk of it spreading, even when no one is showing symptoms. With it taking as long as 14 days for symptoms to develop in a symptomatic patient, the risk of a widespread outbreak is high before you even realize one person was sick.
How effective is a mask at stopping someone from spreading germs? Several studies have been done recently, and sick individuals have been wearing masks in other parts of the world for years as a precaution to protect others. A recent University of Hong Kong study in Nature showed that 100% of viral droplets were stopped from lingering in the air after exhalation. Those without masks released those droplets nearly 30% of the time.
So we know masks are important, but how should they be used?
While just having facial protection is important, there are right and wrong ways to put one on. The following general tips are recommended by state and local health departments:
- Wash Your Hands – Before putting on a mask, wash your hands thoroughly for 20 seconds to avoid spreading germs to the mask.
- Leave the Mask in Place – Few of us are used to wearing masks, so it’s tempting to adjust it, remove it to talk to someone or pull it up and down repeatedly for comfort. But to avoid capturing and spreading germs directly to your face, it’s recommended to leave the mask in place whenever possible and not adjust it.
- Careful Removal – When taking your mask off, wash your hands, and avoid touching any part of your face. Use the ties or straps around your ears to avoid spreading germs.
- Cleaning vs. Reusable – Masks should be cleaned thoroughly between uses if reusable. This is another reason that many facilities are looking to disposable single-use masks to ensure higher levels of compliance.
Purchasing Masks for Your Facility
Finally, there is the issue of finding masks to supply your facility. While most types of masks were in short supply early in the pandemic, and any N95 or surgical masks that were in stock were allocated for healthcare workers, the supply chain has largely caught up and there are plenty of options to purchase masks.
That can create challenges, especially when trying to find a high-quality mask without breaking the bank. A quick look at Amazon will show dozens of different 3Ply mask options from different manufacturers are wildly different prices – from a few cents each to a dollar or more. There are two things to consider here – first the efficacy of the mask. It should come from a reliable supplier to ensure it is authentic and will be effective. Second is the price. Small volume purchases limit the kind of discount you can find on masks, but wholesale options aren’t necessarily better. Prices still vary wildly and some suppliers are having an easier time than others in obtaining the volume needed by their customers.
It’s important to research the masks you purchase to make sure they are of a high level of quality and the price matches the needs of your organization.
Safely Pass is working with companies throughout the United States to support their efforts to reopen and stay open. As part of that, we’ve recently launched the Safely Pass Storefront where you can purchase 3Ply facemasks directly, or request special enterprise pricing solutions for large volume orders. Learn more here: