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The future of face coverings: The cultural shift towards everyday public mask wearing in the UK


Jan 11, 2019 #health

The COVID-19 pandemic won’t be leaving the news agenda anytime soon – that’s for certain. The use of face coverings is a topic that has been discussed by the media countless times since the pandemic began. More recently, there has been speculation about the future of face coverings; will wearing one in public – or indeed, in the workplace – become the norm throughout the UK, even after a full vaccine roll out? Mike Murray, Chief Technology Officer for face covering – Vita Shield, sheds some light on the predicted cultural shift towards wearing a face covering every day in public in the UK – and what factors are likely to drive this. 

A shift towards

The current roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine is a welcome breakthrough in terms of managing and controlling the virus. As of the 19th of January*, it’s thought over four million people in the UK had received the vaccine. This is tremendous progress. That said, it is arguable that face coverings will still be required as a part of everyday life – whether that’s to protect against a new influenza surge, a new variant of coronavirus or to make a conscious choice as a courtesy to our fellow workers, or members of the public. We are therefore likely to see a shift towards wearing face coverings in public or work environments becoming more culturally accepted in the West, similarly to how it has been the norm in the East for decades.

The benefits of face coverings

Post-pandemic, covering your face daily, especially in busy confined environments, could have an extremely positive impact on the public’s health. By wearing a face covering – especially when feeling under the weather – we are helping protect those around us from a variety of airborne illnesses and viruses.

Colds and flus are often circulated in the air and can be passed around as germs spread in a variety of settings including shops, offices, restaurants and on public transport. Wearing a quality certified face covering that is proven to protect can help significantly reduce this transmission and may contribute to improving the health of the overall population. Not only that but the physical act of wearing a face covering can drive awareness and support other important behaviours, such as maintaining social distancing and frequently washing hands.

Lack of quality control

One of the biggest problems is that most face coverings worn by the public have not been tested and don’t have any certification, meaning that they don’t give much, if any, protection. This urgently needs to change. The only way this can be done is if minimum standards are adhered to, including ensuring that the face coverings we wear are comfortable, with good breathability and a minimum level of performance (eg Bacterial Filtration Efficiency – BFE). If these standards are in place, and most importantly, are adhered to, then I believe we’re likely to see people being more receptive to wearing them for longer periods of time. This will be especially important when people begin working back in offices, commuting and travelling again.

Confusing and inconsistent safety standards

Another issue which needs to be addressed is the fact that there are currently no minimum safety standards for face coverings in the UK (in part due to the fact that the market has grown so rapidly, and legislation has not yet caught up). Even more problematic, however, is the abundance of misleading claims made about certain face covering’s performance. For example, one we often see is “protection on contact”. Though this sounds impressive, it could be a completely inappropriate metric to be measuring a face covering on, given that the filtration efficiency of the face covering will determine its efficiency.

Lack of clarity, and confusion around safety standards is problematic, and could compromise people’s health if face coverings are worn that do not protect.

So, in the absence of consistent guidelines, what should you look for? A good starting point is to look for Bacterial Filtration Efficiency % (BFE) rating which is an industry-accepted test, such as EN14683, performed on filtration materials that are designed to provide protection against biological aerosols, such as face mask, surgical gowns, caps, and air filters. To be effective, a face covering’s BFE should be at least 70%, and if possible, much higher. The greater the BFE, the better protection a face covering offers the user from airborne bacteria and viruses.

In addition, *Centexbel, an independent scientific and technical research test centre in the European textile industry has recently developed a COVID-19 approved performance label for community face coverings. We anticipate the Centexbel Covid-19 approved and Oeko-tex S1 testing for harmful substances may become more common across the market in the months to come. Another hallmark of quality.

Ultimately, by addressing these issues, especially around comfort and safety standards, we can help ensure face coverings are not only worn consistently when appropriate, but that the face coverings themselves provide adequate protection.

Following the WHO guidelines

To help people ensure that the mask they are wearing is suitable and is protecting those and others around them, the WHO guidelines should be followed carefully. These include:

  • Making sure face coverings are kept in a separate bag after use to not spread bacteria or a virus caught in them. Many people take a mask from their pocket, wear it and then put it back into their pocket. In the worst-case scenario, this could be spreading the virus to yourself and others.
  • Ensuring that the face covering is washed after use following the manufacturer’s guidelines. This will vary depending on the manufacturer. Responsible manufacturers will know the lifecycle of their product. In general, a face covering should be washed even after a short amount of wear-time.
  • Before buying a face covering, check that it has been tested and certified by the manufacturer, otherwise it may not actually be safe to use or tested to know that it works.
  • Making sure that disposable face coverings are only used once and the environmental impact of using them is considered.

Challenging the market

Vita Shield is a new innovative re-usable foam face covering from The Vita Group, that is effective and comfortable and can be safely worn for prolonged periods. As well as being, Centexbel* Covid-19 approved and Oeko-tex S1 tested for harmful substances, it has a three-layer design and >90% bacterial filtration efficiency. It is also great value for money being re-usable and washable up to 50 times.

The Vita Shield is only £14.99 for a pack of three and being re-usable up to 50 times can work out at just 10 pence per wear. With a selection of colours and sizes available.

By Abbeyg

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