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Personal protection equipment, masks

Wearing a mask helps to limit the virus particles to be carried from one person to another while coughing or sneezing. Masks are effective when used indoors in a crowded space where keeping a 2-meter distance is difficult. In outdoor environments, the particles are not carried further than 2 meters and thereby wearing a mask is not essential. Masks should not be worn at home when all family members are healthy.

Masks can be bought from stores (both single-use and reusable) or you can make your own. The latter one is not equivalent to surgical masks but serves enough protection in regular life. It is important to pay attention that the masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning, 2+2 rules and with proper usage. People who feel unhealthy or experience any symptoms should not leave their house even while wearing a mask.

 

What is a mask? When and how to use a mask?

What is a protective mask?

The protective mask is most usually understood as a medical protective mask, but there are other sorts of breathing protectors such as masks and respirators. Masks can be classified as personal protection or medical equipment depending on what they are used for.

Masks are classified as personal protection equipment if they protect people against threats to themselves. Surgical masks are primarily intended to protect the patient during a medical procedure so that any particles breathed out by a doctor or surgeon would not reach the patient during the process.

Masks with a filter covering the mouth and nose protect against particles in the air. Protective masks are classified by how effective their filters are and what the maximum amount that can leak through the mask is. FFP2 class masks filter 95% of particles of 0.3 µm, which is 0.0003 mm, or larger in diameter. FFP3 class masks filter at least 99% of the particles in the air. Such masks can be worn for up to eight hours.

When would it make sense to wear a mask?

It generally does not make sense to wear a mask at home or outside. Following the 2-metre-distance rule is enough outside. At home it does not make sense to wear a mask because if one family member is infected and other family members are not permanently isolated from him, the virus will probably still find a way to infect the other family members.

It might make sense to wear a mask in public places (stores, pharmacies, medical facilities, public transport) where there are a lot of people, in order to reduce the possibility that the droplet infection released with coughing or sneezing reaches other people. Covering your nose and mouth is an appropriate precaution to take in a place like that. A mask might also be of help to a healthy person if an infected person coughs in his direction -- it might somewhat reduce the possibility of the healthy person getting sprayed with a large enough dosage of the droplet virus to get infected and sick.

Who is the medical mask intended for and what does it achieve?

The medical or surgical mask is a single-use mask. Surgical masks are primarily intended to protect the patient during a medical procedure so that any particles or saliva breathed out by a doctor or surgeon would not reach the patient during the process and so would not cause additional complications and illnesses.

We recommend that infected people wear surgical masks to avoid spreading particles by coughing and sneezing. A surgical mask may also give some direct protection against microscopic particles and may deter you from touching your face. Surgical masks do not give complete protection against the virus, but they do sharply reduce the risk of transmission.

Surgical masks stop offering effective protection if they become wet, and once one has been taken off it cannot be used again but must be thrown away. Neither should the mask be shared as it is for use by one person only, and once it has been taken off, even briefly, it should not be used again. Pulling the mask down to the chin or taking it off for a moment is just the same as taking it off fully, and in this case it should be thrown away and a new mask should be used.

When you take a mask off it is important to observe hygiene rules for your hands properly afterwards, because a used mask may contain particles of infection. Hands must be washed after the mask is taken off. After you have taken the mask off, you should only touch your face once you have washed your hands properly.

What should I do if I do not have a special protective mask?

People who still want to wear a mask can make their own cloth masks. A self-made cloth mask somewhat reduces the risk of an infected person spreading the virus to others and partly also protects the wearer of the mask herself if she does not have the virus yet.

With self-made masks it should be kept in mind that this is not personal protective equipment and not the same as a medical mask.

NB! A virus carrier who has received a diagnosis or a person who has symptoms of the coronavirus must stay at home and avoid contacts with others, regardless of whether he has some kind of a mask or not.

What should I know about masks?

  • Wearing a mask reduces the spread of the virus if you wear it indoors where there are many people together. Wearing a mask reduces the chance that through social contacts, coughing and sneezing, the infection droplets will reach other people. The mask can also help a healthy person if an infected person coughs or sneezes nearby. Wearing a mask will only help to prevent the virus if other hygiene rules are also complied with and close contacts are avoided.

  • There is no reason to wear a mask at home or outdoors.

  • Protecting the mouth and nose in crowded indoor public spaces always helps. If disposable masks are not available, people who want to wear a mask can make a fabric mask at home to cover their nose and mouth in an indoor public space. The use of home-made masks reduces to some extent the risk of the infected person passing the virus on to others, and also protects partly the person wearing the mask who is not infected.

  • If the mask is home-made, it is important to remember that it is neither a personal protective equipment nor an equivalent to a medical mask.

  • In order to protect your health and prevent the spread of the virus, the most important thing is to wash your hands, comply with the hygiene rules, avoid close contacts with other persons, and comply with the 2-by-2 rule when outside the home. If you think you might have symptoms of any disease, it is important to stay home.

  • NB! An infected person with COVID-19 diagnosis or someone who is just feeling ill, should stay home, avoid contacts with other people, regardless if they have a mask or not.

What rules should be observed when wearing a mask?

It is important to keep the following in mind.

  • The mask should sit on the face properly, so that the mouth and the nose are covered. If the mask has a wire to keep it in place, then the wire should sit tight around the nose, the bottom of the mask should fit under the chin.

  • If the mask has been pulled off the face, or it has been been repeatedly adjusted or touched, then the mask must be changed.

  • The maximum time period for the use of a mask bought at the pharmacy is three hours. After that it is recommended to change the mask because the top layer of the mask might have become contaminated with the virus.

  • The mask cannot be damp. A damp mask must be changed.

  • Used mask needs to be disposed to a bin with a lid or placed in a plastic bag which can be sealed. The mask must be disposed with proper care.

  • Please see the proper use of the protective mask here.


Wear a mask when in a public place

 

When moving around in a public place, it is safest to wear a mask. It makes sense to wear a mask in public venues (stores, pharmacies, medical facilities, public transport) where many people move around, in order to decrease the possibility that the droplet infection released by coughing and sneezing reaches other people.


Protect yourself

 

The rule of fist is that everybody who can stay at home should stay at home. It is especially important that symptomatic people stay at home. The best protection against the spread of the virus is following the usual hygiene requirements, like washing hands regularly and thoroughly.


If you come into close contact with the sick, wear a mask

 

Protecting their respiratory tracts is especially necessary for those who come into contact with an infected or possibly infected persons, e.g. health care workers, caretakers and family members. In that case it is recommended to use respirators with an FFP3 protection class.

 

Buying and selling a mask

Where can masks be sold and what information must accompany them?

Masks can be sold everywhere -- pharmacies, construction stores, health stores, grocery stores, online stores. The important thing is that people get the correct information -- a person must know what it is she is buying, what it protects her from and how the masks should be used.

That is why the product must be accompanied by product information (name, the standanrd it meets and information on its protective properties), an instruction manual in Estonian and information on the importer.

If there is no information on protective properties of the product, it can only be advertised as a face mask.

Who is responsible for the national procurement and distribution of personal protective equipment on behalf of the Government?

The Government has placed the responsibility of the national central contracting authority for personal protection equipment to the Minister of Public Administration until December 31, 2020 - the Minister must procure, arrange for the storage and distribution of personal protection equipment. The State Support Services Centre helps the Minister in his task.

 

Self-made masks

What should I keep in mind with a self-made mask?

The material of a self-made mask gets damp very quickly. A damp mask must be changed out, at least every 2-3 hours, depending on the material. One person requires about 4-5 masks a day, for instance if she needs to go to work.

Can a self-made mask be repeatedly used?

Yes, but the cloth masks have to be made from multilayered cloth and they must be washable at high temperatures. The mask has to be washed at 60 degrees, at the lowest. NB! Used masks must be gathered into a closed plastic bag or box. Used masks should certainly not be left lying around.

How much does a self-made mask cost?

The most important thing about a self-made mask is the material. Depending on the material used, a self-made mask can stop 30-50% of fine particles. A person wearing a self-made mask must also take all other precautionary measures: wash her hands, keep a distance with other people. It is important to remember that every time you touch the mask with your hands, the mask gets more contaminated and the risk of infection increases. It is also important to pay attention to protecting your eyes and not rub them with your hands, as the virus can also get into your organism through the open mucous membrane.

If you wearing a mask made of a wrong material, can it damage your lungs?

If you are wearing a mask for a longer period of time made of a not suitable material and it covers your nose and mouth, then microfibres, dust or other particles may enter the airways and damage them.

The mask is an additional measure for preventing the spread of the virus, but it does not replace other important methods for avoiding infection such as washing hands, cleaning surfaces, and also keeping the distance from other people.

How to make a mask at home, what requirements should be considered?

If you make a mask at home, this mask is not a substitute for a medical-grade mask nor would it prevent transmission like a medical-grade mask. Wearing such a mask and using other preventative measures may reduce the risk of transmission through inhalation and it will reduce the risk of infecting other people.

Instructions on how to make a home-made mask have been published by the Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority:

  • A mask must be made of a multiple-layer fabric, which can be washed at 60 degrees Celsius, and can be heat-treated.
  • Materials used in cleaning cloths and microfibre towels, a thicker dishwasher fabric, antimicrobial pillowcase are suitable for making home-made masks.
  • The material should have good breathability.
  • the mask material should not be too stiff but comfortable against the skin.
  • the mask must be fixed behind the ears; a rubber band could be used. Instead of a rubber band, a ribbon can be attached to each corner of the mask, but this mask would be more difficult to use.

The Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority instructions for making a home-made mask: https://www.ttja.ee/sites/default/files/failid/dokumendid/kuidas_valmistada_kodus_kaitsemaska_210x297_est.pdf (in Estonian, pdf).

More detailed instructions for making a home-made mask for private persons, and making a medical-grade mask for businesses are available here (in Estonian, pdf).

 

Last updated: 2 June 2020