Some Covid masks are better than others. I know – I’m the Mask Nerd | Aaron collins

AAs a mechanical engineer with a background in aerosol science, I often wondered why months after the pandemic we were still using sheet masks. People used similar coatings during the Spanish flu pandemic in 1919, over 100 years ago. I knew better mask technology existed and people needed to know about it.

So I embarked on a one-year mission to test, document and review the best masks I could find. This ultimately involved building a mini aerosol lab in my bathroom, with scientific instruments capable of measuring particles 1 / 50,000 the width of a human hair. I have a public database for my results. And a Youtube channel. Over time, I started to be known as the Mask Nerd.

One of Aaron Collins’ Youtube videos

With the Omicron variant spreading around the world, the most common question I get is always the most basic: What type of mask should I wear?

If possible, not a cloth or surgical. These masks are moderately effective at capturing particles coming out of your own mouth – what we engineering nerds call “source control.” But they offer little protection against incoming particles. We call this part – how well the mask protects the wearer – respiratory protection.

A typical cloth mask, while better than nothing, only offers about 30-60% protection to the wearer. Surgical masks, although 40-80% better, do not fit well on the face, resulting in large leaks around the mask.

There are much better masks. These are sometimes referred to as high filtration masks, or by the technical name of a filter mask respirator. Such high performance masks offer significant protection to the wearer at levels between five and 10 times that of a cloth mask, while also providing significant protection to others.

In fact, just wearing a high filtration mask can save you a lot of time if you are exposed to infectious people. Analyzes and studies suggest that with fabric or surgical masks, the risk of infection may increase within minutes of being around other people without a mask or with poorly performing masks. However, with the use of well-fitting, high-filtration masks, that same level of exposure would now take hours to become dangerous. However, you should know that being around a contagious person always involves a certain risk.

Beyond the actual increased protection against potential exposure, these masks offer psychological improvement in everyday life, as you no longer need to worry that those around you may prefer to wear their cloth masks under. the chin.

One would assume, from the technical name, “respirator,” that it would be a Darth Vader-style helmet – bulky and difficult to breathe. However, it is quite the opposite. These masks feature a high-tech material called electrostatically charged melt-blown polypropylene (quite a mouthful). It features closely spaced micron-sized fibers – about 1 / 50th the diameter of a human hair – that have an electrostatic charge applied to them to catch even smaller particles. This material can filter out particles of only a few nanometers.

The most amazing thing, however, is that while providing almost 99% protection against typical Covid respiratory aerosols, these materials also provide breathability that exceeds that of a typical three-layer fabric mask.

When choosing a mask, you need to consider three criteria: filtration, comfort and fit. The respirators not only offer filtration but also comfort through highly breathable materials and face seal thanks to the design of the mask.

This is what makes respirators such an easy option – you don’t have to worry about anything other than finding one that fits your face. This ensures that all the air is circulating through the mask, not around it.

In the EU and UK the FFP2 standard is my recommendation for the general public. It includes both earrings and headbands, comes in a variety of colors, and typically costs less than a pound. The oversight of regulators by various government bodies in the EU and UK helps to ensure a quality product.

A 3M N95 mask. Photograph: Canadian Press / REX / Shutterstock

In the US, the common NIOSH N95 is a great option, but it’s limited to headbands only. Earring masks are available through other international respirator standards, such as KF94 (in South Korea) or KN95 (China). However, it should be noted that the KN95 is a self-reported testing standard and lacks strict government regulations from China, resulting in many fake masks that underperform and often go flat. KF94 is less affected by this, as it is regulated by the Korean equivalent of the FDA.

During my year of testing almost 100 different masks, I have found time and time again that there are some high performing masks that outperform cloth masks, while still showcasing many of the things people love about their masks by. tissue.

Mask makers such as Masklab and Posh have created very decorative masks, with bright colors and intricate patterns. Many KF94 goggles have built-in earring adjusters, which allows for a comfortable yet snug fit. Other mask manufacturers such as 3M – with the 9152 (9105 in the US), a mask that helps the wearer breathe as if there is none on the face, while still offering a full range of jaw movements – provide great options for singers and backers.

With copious amounts of these masks available and a more transferable variant on our doorstep, there has never been a better time to improve your mask set. I encourage people to go out and try a few different strains, find what they like and what matches their face.

As well as helping individuals choose the best mask for themselves, I would also encourage governments to increase domestic production of masks, which would not only create jobs, but also allow regulatory oversight and mask supply. efficient and safe for their citizens. And good masks should be provided free of charge to those who may not be able to afford them.

Not all masks are created equal, so now is the time to make sure everyone is familiar with high filtration masks. These simple, inexpensive and super effective masks can make a significant difference in our fight against Covid. If you wear a mask, you might as well make it count by wearing the best.

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