Should I wear a mask to protect against coronavirus?

27th March 2020

With new coronavirus cases being announced every day, including the two major high-profile cases from today (the prime minister, Boris Johnson and the health secretary, Matt Hancock), everyone is looking to protect themselves.

The main thing that people are seemingly hoping to get and learn more about are face masks. But should you be wearing one to protect yourself against coronavirus?

Should I wear a mask to protect against coronavirus?

Nothing is guaranteed to protect you from catching COVID-19, as it’s considered a highly contagious virus. However, there are a number of measures you can take to shield yourself and one of those includes wearing a face mask.

Face masks can be split into surgical masks and respirator masks and there are some key differences between them. Surgical masks tend to be the blue, 3-ply ones and they are used in surgery and other medical practises. This is because their main purpose is to protect the patient, from any germs that the medical professional wearing one could pass on. They are disposable and designed to be changed in between every patient.

Respirator masks, on the other hand, are designed to protect the wearer. These have filtration built into the material, which means they filter the air of impurities. These kinds of masks are based on a grading system to indicate how much protection they offer, from FFP1 to FFP2 to FFP3.

Which mask should I wear?

If you’re looking to get a respirator mask then you may be confused as to which one to get. The FFP rating is a good indication of how much protection you’ll get.

FFP1 masks offer the lowest level of protection, protecting against materials in concentrations up to 4x OEL or 4x APF (assigned protection factor).

FFP2 masks are higher than this, as they offer protection against materials in concentrations up to 12x OEL or 10x APF. This standard meets the WHO guidance and is probably the most popular.

FFP3 masks offer the highest level of protection against materials in concentrations up to 50x OEL or 20x APF. This standard is the kind frequently used by dentists and other healthcare professionals, and these meet the current NHS guidelines.

How else can I protect myself against coronavirus?

The most important thing is to follow all government guidelines on proper hygiene practises and social distancing.

You should wash your hands regularly after being in any public place, before eating and if you touch any surfaces. This should be a thorough wash with antibacterial soap, for at least 20 seconds, making sure to get all the areas that can be missed (knuckles, wrists, thumbs, under the nails).

For times when you are unable to wash your hands, you should use a sanitiser gel instead. You could either use an alcohol-based one (which must contain over 60% alcohol to be effective) or an alternative like the SurSol alcohol-free sanitiser which kills 99.8% of known germs.