The South African government recently eased lockdown restrictions and made it compulsory to wear a face mask (or any fabric that can cover your mouth and nose) when you go out into public spaces. With cloth masks being all the rage right now, questions around their effectiveness and efficiency have come up.
The Department of Health also made sure to highlight the fact that surgical masks and N-95 respirators are reserved for healthcare workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 battle and that the public should refrain from wearing them, leaving us with fabric masks as our only option… and we are not complaining (hello fashion statement!)
Even though the national lockdown restrictions have been eased, the number of infections are continuing to rise in South Africa. The country’s COVID-19 numbers are currently* (*As of 6 May) sitting at 7 572 positive cases, 2 746 recoveries, and 148 deaths with 268 064 tests conducted.
These numbers serve as a sobering reminder that the top priority for each of us should be to stay safe and protected — this includes wearing fabric masks that fit well every single time we step out of our houses.
Are fabric masks effective?
At this point, there is very limited research on just how much a fabric mask protects its wearer and which fabrics work best, but a new study looked to quantify this.
The study, done by researchers from the University of Chicago and the Argonne National Laboratory looked at how different fabrics, when alone and combined, compared in their protective quality.
The transmission specifics of COVID-19 are not 100% understood yet, but it is believed that droplets smaller than 5 micrometres are the primary source of transmission in a respiratory infection. With that in mind, the researchers analyzed a range of particle sizes (ranging from 10 nanometres to 6 micrometres) and found that fabrics with a tighter weaving performed better at blocking droplets from leaving the mask and entering the air.
“A particulate trying to go across that membrane will get stuck in those gaps and pores and will not make it to the other side,” Prof. Supratik Guha, co-author of the study, said in a statement.
Cotton masks made with 600 threads per inch were found to capture over 90% of particles bigger than 300 nanometers and 65% of particles smaller than that. The study also found that combining specific materials also works just as well, if not better. Silk and cotton layered masks were found to trap over 90% of particles bigger than 300 nanometres and more than 80% of particles smaller than that. Chiffon and cotton layered masks were found to be just as effective.
“We speculate that the enhanced performance of the hybrids is likely due to the combined effect of mechanical and electrostatic-based filtration,” the study says.
“Cotton, the most widely used material for cloth masks, performs better at higher weave densities (thread count) and can make a significant difference in filtration efficiencies.”
The study goes on to say that gaps, which are caused by an improper fitting face mask, could decrease a mask’s filtration efficiency by over 60%. Essentially, an ill-fitting mask has a huge impact on how much you’re protected.
“[This] implies the need for future cloth mask design studies to take into account issues of fit and leakage, while allowing the exhaled air to vent efficiently,” the study says, concluding that the use of cloth face masks can potentially provide significant protection against the transmission of particles in the aerosol size range.
Here are 5 places you can order a face mask for delivery today:
1. Loin, Cloth and Ashes
Order now: www.loinclothandashes.com
2. Mzansi Masks
Order now: www.mzansimasks.co.za
3. Sexy Socks
Order now: www.sexysockssa.com
4. House of Hohwa
Order now: www.digitally4u.co.za
Order now: www.ballo.co.za
Source: Womens Health sa