THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO FACE MASKS
As states move forward with economy re-opening plans, face mask use becomes even more important to businesses as they look for ways to keep workers safe and business on track.
Face masks provide a unique opportunity for business. They have the potential to increase safety while also improving visibility and marketing.
I know because I have spent weeks at Wearable Imaging, Inc. speaking with businesses concerned about face mask use.
I have also reached out manufacturers, vendors and others in the supply chain learning about face mask best practices, personal protective wear and working to obtain face masks to meet a variety of business needs and specifications – from N95 face masks to cloth masks suitable for safety and logo imprinting.
Through this, it is clear that many businesses are exploring options. And many of those businesses don’t know the opportunity presented with face masks.
To help provide some basic information on face mask use – both on the safety side and the marketing opportunity side - I put together this Definitive Guide to Face Masks for Business.
Because the information on COVID-19 and how to protect ourselves from it is in a nearly constant state of flux, it is important to check frequently for updates to the information available for best protection practices.
ARE FACE MASKS RECOMMENDED, REQUIRED OR MANDATORY?
While initially the Surgeon General advised again wearing face masks, the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization have now come out in support of people wearing face covers (more on the difference between face masks and face covers below) while in public.
This recommendation came to help slow or stop the spread of Covid-19, especially after it was determined that many carrying the virus are without symptoms or that active transmission could occur before symptoms develop.
The recommendations are seen as universally excusing those who are unable to wear a face covering for health reasons (such as breathing problems, allergies to the material in the mask or other similar conditions) and children under the age of 2.
Because so many are now required to wear face masks, it offers a tremendous opportunity for businesses that act promptly.
Most states and many cities and local government agencies have declared that face masks are mandatory. Notably, Florida, Ohio and Missouri do not require face masks.
Locations that do require face masks most often mandate that face masks are to be worn when in public. In addition, face masks are mandatory in most locations whenever a 6 foot distance is either impractical or cannot be maintained between people, such as at stores or in other public places.
Even where no clear mandate is provided by a state or local government, many businesses looking to protect their staff and clients are requiring face masks for entry into the business.
In addition to providing safety, face masks are like miniature billboards. They are a perfect place to have a logo or business slogan.
With so many people being required to wear face masks in and out of the business setting, it is an easy, affordable way to provide safety while becoming more business visible.
WHY IS THERE A SHORTAGE OF FACE MASKS?
For many, face masks are hard to find. They have not yet become an easily obtained item at most stores. They do appear with different degrees of availability and receipt times online.
In some countries like Korea, face mask rationing has occurred. People have been limited to two face masks per person.
And with many states in the U.S. starting to reopen their economies, the need for face masks is expected to rise.
So why did there become a shortage?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimated that before the outbreak of COVID-19, about 95% of surgical masks and nearly 70% of respirator masks (like N95 masks) were made overseas.
In addition, many of the materials for use in the masks came from overseas.
Many face masks were manufactured in China. When COVID-19 broke out in China, China needed the masks to address the virus within China so it stopped shipping the masks in the same amount to the United States.
While the United States had a stockpile of face masks in the Strategic National Stockpile, the supply of them was almost gone by April 1st.
In addition, many institutions (such as hospitals) regularly stock between a one month and a four month supply of masks. That is a sufficient supply in normal circumstances and can even accommodate some extenuating circumstances, but not enough to cover a pandemic.
All of these factors came together to result in the shortage.
Even as manufacturers in the United States are refitting machines and obtaining the materials needed to make sufficient supplies to meet demands, increased production and delivery still takes time.
As a result, the FDA and Centers for Disease Control have temporarily waived some of the usual regulations for mask manufacturer in order to make more masks available.
The shortage of face masks makes having them highly desirable.
Because face masks are still not as readily available, branded face masks are a smart product to send to workers, clients and business affiliates. They are appreciated, put in use and when they have a logo or slogan on them, face masks provide smart visibility, outreach and marketing.
And as the economy opens up and more businesses return to having workers on site, the need – and the desirability - for masks is expected to increase.
WHY WEAR A FACE MASK?
The reason for wearing a face mask, other than merely abiding by a clear mandate or requirement by a federal, state or local law, is that health care professionals, scientists and those who study pandemics believe that face masks help slow or stop the spread of COVID-19.
This is because COVID-19 is currently believed to be spread through respiratory particles and infectious matter carrying the virus.
Health care professionals and scientists alike believe that sneezing, coughing or projection of respiratory particle (like what happens when someone speaks emphatically) spreads the virus.
What’s more, some studies are suggesting that respiratory particles containing COVID-19 are spread even while simply talking or breathing in a room that does not have adequate ventilation.
Certain types of face coverings and face masks are believed to help block transmission of some of those particles.
Of course, this is not the only safety precaution for businesses to take. In addition, social distancing, frequent hand washing, improving ventilation and cleaning surfaces where the virus may land are also important in slowing or stopping transmission.
But with so much concern over protecting us all from COVID-19, face masks are quickly moving from a safety-only item to a fashion statement.
Many are exploring ways to make face masks resemble personal taste and brand alignment.
With the scarcity of the product and the ability to brand them, face masks provide a great opportunity to offer something that deeply serves and provides for business visibility.
WHICH FACE MASKS ARE FOR CORONOVIRUS?
There are a number of different face masks produced. But not all face masks and coverings carry the same effectiveness at blocking particles.
Knowing which face mask is for COVID-19 and why can help you discern which face masks are appropriate for which situations.
It is important to note that the face covering recommendation from the CDC is not for surgical masks or N-95 masks. The CDC has recommended that those masks be reserved for health care workers and others on the front line.
The CDC recommendation is phrased as ‘face coverings.’
For most, the phrase ‘face covering’ and ‘face mask’ have become synonymous and mean both the medical grade face covering and loose face coverings like scarves. Both are now commonly referred to as ‘face masks.’
But throughout this Guide, I’ll use the term ‘face masks’ when referring to face masks and ‘face coverings’ when referring to coverings that are not masks.
Now let’s cover the different types of face masks.
HOW ARE FACE MASKS RATED? AND WHAT FACE MASKS ARE BEST FOR COVID-19?
Different types of masks offer different degrees of protection from COVID-19.
Face masks are usually rated by their filtration effectiveness level.
The numbers referenced below are United States reference numbers. Other countries differ in their requirements.
· Surgical Grade or Respirator Grade N95, N99 or N100 Face Masks
These offers the highest degree of protection against COVID-19.
These masks are measured by their effectiveness at keeping out 0.3 microns.
These face masks have a filtration effectiveness for 0.3 microns equal to or greater than 95%, 99% and 99.7 % respectively.
· Surgical Grade Type I, Type II or Type III (none are N95 grade or higher) Face Masks
These are each considered the next best level of protection.
These masks have filtration for 3.0 microns, not 0.3 as above.
They are not as effective as N95, N99 or N100 but can capture large particles. The filtration for the Type I (equal to or greater than 95%), II or III (both greater equal to or greater than 98%) is at 3.0 microns.
It is important to note that most government mandates requiring face masks do not specify what type of mask is required.
In fact, most places have asked that Surgical Grade N95 and higher as well as Surgical Grade face masks (not N95) be reserved for health care providers and others on the front line. This is because there is presently a shortage on these types of masks.
Moving down the ladder of filtration effectiveness for face masks is:
· Paper Surgical ‘Single-Use’ Face Masks
The filtration effectiveness of these masks at 3.0 microns is greater or equal to 95%.
There is currently no evidence that a surgical single-use face mask provides any level of additional protection over cloth masks.
· Cloth Face Masks
Not all cloth masks are considered the same.
a. Studies have suggested that heavy weight cotton or multi-layer cotton offer the same level of protection as a surgical single-use face mask.
They also offer more protection than scarves, many homemade masks or a simple bandana (although the CDC has not restricted what type of face covering be worn).
Cloth that is more dense is believed to limit particle infiltration.
Cloth that is more form fitting is believed to do better than cloth that is bulky and will not fit the contours of a person’s face.
b. It is believed that 100% polyester face masks and bandanas do not provide as much filtration of particles as other cloth materials.
c. According to medical professionals, home-made face coverings are better than no face covering but often are without the density or form fitting accommodations that provide sufficient protection in comparison to other masks.
For instance, home made masks made out of t-shirt material are estimated to be about one third as effective compared to regular surgical masks. Single-layer or bi-layer masks similarly are less effective. Still, they are better than no mask at reducing virus particle expelled by those wearing them.
Without sufficient density of material to keep filtrate out and without form fitting around the nose and mouth, these are not as effective as manufactured masks that are made of dense material and have form fitting components.
Coverings that are loose or not fitted to the face offer less protection.
However, as mentioned, it is believed that even these face coverings are better than no face mask at all.
For businesses, there are cotton face masks available that allow for imprinting of logos, slogans and other material. These provide a safe option to protect workers and clients while providing a positive connection and smart marketing for your business.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU USE A FACE MASK?
The CDC and most state and local governments requiring face coverings or face masks state that face masks are to be worn by:
· adults not otherwise unable for health reasons to wear them
· children over the age of two
whenever legally mandated or necessary to protect the health and well-being of those around them.
Usually, the requirement is that face coverings or face masks are to be worn* when leaving the home and in public settings or other location where other social distancing measures (maintaining a distance of six feet) are difficult or unlikely to be maintained.
The key here is that in many businesses, social distancing will be difficult to be maintained in all areas. Workers sitting near each other, passing each other in common areas, in rooms where ventilation is less than optimal and in other shared locations (restrooms, company lunch area, meeting rooms, the boss’ office, etc.) will be unable to maintain a distance of six feet.
This means that as businesses re-open, many will need to have face mask use requirements in place.
*Children under the age of two, and all those with breathing conditions where the mask will impair breathing and those allergic to mask material are generally considered exempt from the recommendations.
WHEN SHOULD YOU BE WEARING A FACE MASK?
There are several principles to follow when deciding when to wear a mask.
Of course, there are also those who, for health reasons, should not be wearing them (for instance, those with breathing problems or allergies to material in the face masks). There are also people who refuse to wear them and people who elect not to wear them.
For people who do wear them or are required to wear them, the current standard is:
Health care workers should wear face masks at all times where it is necessary to protect themselves and those who they come in contact with while performing their health care duties.
Food service workers should wear face masks at all times when they are interacting with the public or coming in contact with food.
Those working in positions with public interaction (such as cashiers, delivery, repair and sales personnel) are to wear face masks during such times of public interaction.
People who are outside of their home or off their own property are to wear face masks when a six foot distance cannot or is unlikely to be consistently maintained.
Whenever someone is out in public, including when picking up take-out food, visiting a health care provider, interacting with customers, clients or co-workers, or shopping, face masks are to be worn.
Face masks are to be worn when someone is sick, coughing or sneezing.
The above supports the CDC recommendation (or what is mandated by law) to wear face masks whenever it is impractical or impossible to maintain at least a 6 foot distance from others.
As such, face mask use in business is going to be a given.
As this occurs, workers will either be required to bring their own face mask from home or be required to wear a business-provided face mask.
Because face masks containing a business’ logo or slogan can provide a sense of team spirit, having promotional product face masks made is important.
In addition, by providing a business-issued face mask, a business can increase the likelihood that the face masks worn are appropriate for business.
SHOULD YOU BE WEARING A FACE MASK WHEN WALKING?
Locations with shelter-in-place mandates and face mask requirements initially allowed exceptions to face mask mandates for those engaging in outdoor exercise.
Many excuse face masks when outdoors or exercising but only when on one’s own property.
Initially, locations with mandatory face mask requirements required face masks only in areas where you were likely to come in contact with other individuals and could not maintain a six foot distance at all times.
However more recently, some locations – especially those where the peak has not yet been reached - are tightening up. This may be due to the spread itself, people disobeying the six foot social distance rule when public parks and beaches opened back up, people disobeying the maximum allowed number of people in attendance or because of concerns that the approaching warmer weather will lead to more people being outside in close proximity and unable to adhere to a six foot distance.
As a result of the tightening of enforcement, many locations now require either:
a. that face masks be worn when walking in areas where the public can be easily found (on one’s own property away from others and walking in woods where others are not present seems to be allowed in most locations)
b. that a face masks must be on, though pulled down, and the mask is to be brought back up when someone approaches.
SHOULD YOU BE WEARING A FACE MASK WHEN BIKING?
Much like the recommendations and mandates for walking, the growing trend is to require face masks even when biking where people are likely to be in close contact.
Initially, just like with walking, little enforcement of the wearing of face masks occurred when bicyclists rode on public ways.
But with the weather starting to improve and the number of people going outdoors increasing, more localities are requiring face masks of bike riders.
Here, too, some locations require that face masks be worn but allow it to be down away from the mouth until people approach.
CAN FACE MASKS BE REUSED OR RECYCLED?
Most surgical masks are not meant to be reused. They are meant to be single-use and not worn all day.
However, because of the face mask shortage, many face masks are being used longer of the way they were intended to be used. This is especially true of health care workers and others providing essential services.
In those instances, it is recommended that only one individual wear the mask and that it not be shared. In addition, it is recommended that rather than take the mask on and off (thereby increasing the likelihood of contamination), that the mask be worn for the entire shift.
In addition, face masks - regardless of type - that have started to deteriorate or degrade in the quality of the elastic bands, fibers, or form fitting material – loose their protection effectiveness and should not be reused.
Face masks that are made of appropriate cloth and have not started to deteriorate or degrade are believed to be able to be reused with care and proper cleaning (see below section on cleaning).
NOTE: The CDC guidelines suggest that there is no effective way to determine how many times a face mask may be reused. Instead, the CDC leaves this judgment up to medical professionals.
Used face masks may contain bio-hazardous material due to their ability to contain the virus. As such, face masks should not be recycled.
Recyclers, Waste Management businesses and The Confederation of Paper Industries warn that face masks, disposable gloves and other personal protective equipment should not be recycled.
Traditional recycling facilities are not designed to recycle personal protective equipment such as face masks and disposable gloves.
What’s more, throwing face masks, disposable gloves and other personal protective equipment in the recycling can puts both trash pick-up workers and recycling workers at risk.
Note: There is growing development of face masks containing nanofibers with a diameter of 100~500 nm that are believed to meet recyclable standards. However, those are not yet readily available.
HOW LONG SHOULD A FACE MASK SIT BEFORE REUSE?
It is believed that COVID-19 lives on cloth for up to 72 hours.
As such, it would be important to allow a used mask to sit for 72 hours before reusing it.
If using this method, the face mask must be allowed to sit in a warm, well-ventilated, dry location for an entire 72 hours before reuse.
HOW DO YOU SAFELY STORE A FACE MASK FOR REUSE?
Face masks that are going to be reused before washing should be stored in a breathable container like a paper bag.
They should not be placed in a plastic container or other type of receptacle that maintains moisture.
HOW DO YOU SAFELY DISPOSE OF A USED FACE MASK?
The proper way to dispose of face masks, disposable gloves and other personal protective equipment is as follows:
· Place the used face mask in a double bag
· Tie the double bag securely closed
· Place the face mask that is in the tied and double bagged container in the general waste
· Let it remain in the waste receptacle for at least 72 hours before placing it in the general trash collection receptacle for pick-up.
As explained above, they should not be placed in the recycle bin.
CAN FACE MASKS BE CLEANED?
For many cloth masks, yes.
For single-use or paper masks, it will likely cause deterioration or degrading of the material reducing or eliminating the safety factor.
Face masks can be cleaned if they are made of cloth and are not damaged, degrading, thinning or otherwise in a state of disrepair.
HOW DO YOU CLEAN A FACE MASK?
To clean a cloth face mask, many recommend:
1. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water before touching the face mask.
2. Do not leave a used mask laying around or accessible to be touched by others.
3. Place the face mask in a washing machine and wash with soap for a wash cycle
4. Wash your hands again for at least 20 seconds with soap and water before removing the
face mask from the washing machine
5. Place the washed face mask in a dryer and dry on the high setting. (According to the World
Health Organization, the virus is killed at 133 degrees Fahrenheit).
6. Make sure the face mask has not stretched out or become loose fitting after washing and
WHICH FACE MASKS ARE WASHABLE?
Cloth face masks that have not started to degrade or deteriorate.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU WASH FACE MASKS?
Face masks that may be safely reused should be washed after each use.
HOW MANY FACE MASKS DO YOU NEED?
The exact number may vary depending on a person’s use, the condition of the mask, the individual’s frequency in public, the face mask wash frequency and whether the person is following the guidelines of not using a mask more than once before storing or cleaning.
Having shared that, the recommended number is a minimum of three face masks.
Why a minimum of three?
The virus is believed to live on cloth surfaces for up to 72 hours.
Because daily washing of a single face mask is impractical for most people, to allow for proper rotation while allowing a used mask to sit for that 72 hour period, it would require three masks:
· Mask 1 is used for the first 24 hours and then placed aside for 72 hours
· Mask 2 would be used for the second 24 hours and then placed aside for 72 hours
· Mask 3 would be used for the third 24 hours and then placed aside for 72 hours
In addition, even if one were to engage in daily washing of the face mask, a face mask should not continue to be worn in the same wearing period if it becomes damp or wet. Because the face mask easily becomes damp after just a few hours of wear, it is recommended that face masks be switched out even within the same day. This is because it loses its effectiveness when damp or wet.
It is therefore recommended that three face masks be kept and maintained.
This is just another reason why providing promotional face masks – those containing your business logo or slogan – are a smart and effective way to help protect workers and clients while sharing a team-like feel and improving visibility of your branding or message.
HOW SHOULD FACE MASKS FIT?
To provide effective protection, face masks should fit snuggly around the nose and mouth in such a way that there is no space between the mask and your face. It should allow you to breathe without having to breathe heavy.
Face masks are here for the foreseeable future.
And at least for now, they are a highly sought after and prized possession.
More than that, they provide safety to workers and clients alike – making them an integral part of continued business.
When a product that helps protect people day-to-day becomes highly sought-after and is made available by a business, it increases the goodwill associated with the business.
On top of that, when a product that helps protect people becomes highly sought after and contains the logo or slogan of the business, it not only increases the goodwill associated with the business but also makes the business even more memorable.
Face masks are such a product.
With the current recommendations and mandates for use as economies start to reopen, the demand for face masks will likely increase. With it will present a great business opportunity.
Those poised to jump on the opportunity stand in a unique position to provide not just heightened marketing, but a product that is highly desirable, extremely functional and associated with keeping workers and clients alike safe.
It is also a necessary item for worker safety.
When coupling the safety provisions that are provided through face mask use with an ability to help people feel - much like occurs with sporting team shirts and hats – that we are all part of the same team, face masks can be an effective way to promote community.
From the businesses I have spoken with, the provision of branded face masks have been a highly prized item among team and workers alike.