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Personal protection equipment – masks and similar

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. 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.

 

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.

Masks can be defined as personal protective equipment (including visors), medical masks, as well as facial covers sold commonly in stores (incl. reusable masks or self-made masks). In the absence of these mask, it is enough to satisfy the requirements by simultaneously covering mouth and nose, if the material and the properties of the item allow facial coverage without using hands (for example, scarves which stay in place when covering nose and mouth). It is important that the mask is used and maintained according to the user guidelines.

  • 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.

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 medical grade mask?

As of November 24, wearing a mask is compulsory in public indoor premises in Estonia. Masks can be defined as personal protective equipment (including visors), medical masks, as well as facial covers sold commonly in stores (incl. reusable masks or self-made masks). In the absence of these mask, it is enough to satisfy the requirements by simultaneously covering mouth and nose, if the material and the properties of the item allow facial coverage without using hands (for example, scarves which stay in place when covering nose and mouth). It is important that the mask is used and maintained according to the user guidelines.

With a home-made mask it should be kept in mind that it is not equivalent to the medical mask, it does not stop the spread of the virus as well but wearing such a mask while using other precautions may reduce the threat of inhaling the virus and reduces the risk of an infected person spreading the virus to others.

Guidelines for making a home-made mask for private persons and instructions for making a medical masks for businesses are available on the website of the Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority.

NB! A person who has been diagnosed with coronavirus or who has symptoms of the coronavirus must stay at home and avoid contacts with others, regardless of whether they are wearing a mask or not.

What information must be included with a reusable mask?

According to TTJA the packaging of a reusable mask or an information sheet included with it must contain the following information:

  1. filtration efficiency and the size of particles that it has been tested with;
  2. reference to whether this is a reusable or a single use mask;
  3. in the case of a reusable mask, additional information that "the mask needs to be cleaned according to the manufacturer's instructions after every use" and instructions for cleaning/washing the product must be included. PS! The virus particles are destroyed by washing at 60 degrees or higher. For instance, if the instructions refer to washing at 40 degrees and there are no references to any other cleaning instructions that would ensure that the virus is destroyed, this kind of a product cannot be considered safe for the user for repeated use;
  4. using instructions (how the face cover/mask needs to be placed etc. -- this can be depicted with pictograms);
  5. the following information needs to also be included: "Always check that the face cover is correctly placed and covers your nose, mouth and jaw; a beard might reduce filtration efficiency." Additionally, the following information must be included: "Using a face cover does not replace other protective measures like regular hand washing, keeping a necessary distance etc.";
  6. a warning must be included: "Warning! This is not a medical mask or personal protective equipment. The face cover/mask limits the dispersal of droplets from the user's respiratory tract to the environment." (this warning must be easily noticeable);
  7. the name and contact information of the producer or the importer;
  8. the means of identifying the product (the model or batch number or similar).

The same kind of labelling must be included with the product description at an e-store.

TTJA recommends to rather refrain from buying a mask that has no information included at all or no corresponding description with the product at an e-store.

Do I have to wear a mask when visiting a shopping centre?

Yes, it is compulsory to wear a mask when in a public indoor space. Masks can be defined as personal protective equipment (including visors), medical masks, as well as facial covers sold commonly in stores (incl. reusable masks or self-made masks). The obligation to wear a mask does not apply to children under 12 years of age and if wearing a mask is not possible for health reasons (e.g. respiratory difficulties, certain mental disorders, allergies), special needs or disabilities.

The mask does not have to be used by people with special needs. The mask also does not have to be used by a person accompanying a person with a hearing disability or a person who needs to read from lips to communicate, read facial expressions, who needs a clear speech, etc. if using a mask makes it difficult to read from the lips.

There is no need to prove the medical indications or other special needs, including the fact that the mask cannot be used by a certificate or a document. It is sufficient that person states that they have contraindications to mask wearing.

What kind of masks are preferable in the cold?

Damp and wet masks do not protect us anymore as the virus particles stick to damp material very easily. But it is not necessary to wear a mask outdoors at all. Should it become necessary for carrying out a work task, for instance, the mask should be changed out more often or every time it starts to become damp or wet (the material the mask is made out of makes no difference).

Under what conditions may an employer require their employees to use personal protective equipment?

The decision to use personal protective equipment must be based on risk analysis. This means that the employer carries out a risk analysis which will show what dangers there are in the work environment. This includes biological dangers, and among them is the possibility of infection with the coronavirus. After that, they can decide what measures should be taken to avoid or reduce related risks. Under § 13 (2) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, an employer has the right to apply stricter health and safety requirements than those required by law.

Personal protective equipment must be used if the risk analysis shows that the danger of infection cannot be avoided or reduced only by shared means of protection such as protective glass to stop the spread of the virus, or through organisational measures such as maintaining distance and making disinfectant available.

The employer must inform their employees of the results of the risk analysis in the working environment, which includes health risks and the measures taken to avoid harm to health. The employer informs their employees of any possible points of danger identified during the risk analysis such as the risk of infection in particular companies or during particular work tasks, and what measures are being taken. As shared protective measures or organisational measures are to be preferred to personal protective equipment, the employer must explain to their employees why it was decided to use personal protective equipment.

The employer must explain why it is necessary to use personal protective equipment and to require its use. When this is explained to the employees it is important that they understand why this requirement has been introduced. If the reasons for the requirement are not explained to the employees, there may be more opposition to complying with it.

If the employee does not comply with the construction, the employer may issue a warning that they may be dismissed if they do not follow the rules. If the employee does not abide by the rules even after the warning, the employer has the right to terminate their employment.

Do I have to wear a mask and what are the exceptions? Where do I have to wear a mask?

As of November 24, the obligation to wear a mask or cover your nose and mouth is applicable in public spaces in Estonia.

Public indoor space is a space for public use, to which anyone wishing to enter, regardless of the pre-registration requirement, for example, it is a place where many people gather who otherwise not be in contact with each other on a daily basis. The public indoor space may be a shopping centre, public transport, entertainment facility, bank office, museum, exhibition, beauty, and hair salon, etc.

Obligation to wear a mask does not apply for:

  • for children under 12-years of age

  • for people who cannot wear a mask due to health reasons (such as breathing difficulties, certain mental health issues, or allergies)

  • people performing certain tasks or activities (such as eating in a restaurant) where it is not possible due to the nature of the activity or other reasons to wear a mask.

  • people with special needs, such as developmental disorders who are not able to wear a mask according to the requirements, or are not capable of placing or removing the mask

  • a person accompanying a hearing-impaired person, or a person communicating with a person who needs to read lips or expressions, or needs to hear clear speech in order to communicate, if wearing a mask hinders lip-reading).

According to the Order, no medical indication or other special needs issue (including the fact that the mask cannot be worn) need to be proven by a document. People's statements that they have contraindications to mask wearing are considered sufficient.

Situations may arise where the person wearing a mask might have to remove the mask, e.g. in the bank or when receiving health care services, or in the pharmacy or a store, if it is necessary to identify the person, determine the age - including when purchasing products with age restrictions, such as alcohol.

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.

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.

Guidelines for making a home-made mask for private persons and instructions for making a medical masks for businesses are available on the website of the Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority.

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).

Do cloth masks need to be washed after every use?

Yes, a cloth mask must be put straight into a washing machine, or a closed plastic bag or box immediately after use. The mask must be washed at a temperature of at least 60 degrees. Used masks should absolutely never be left lying around somewhere. A used mask that has been left on a shelf can disseminate the virus through airborne transmission and is thus dangerous to people in the same room.

Does the security guard of a store have the right to not allow me to enter the store if I am not wearing a mask?

Private enterprises have every right to enact the rules of conduct necessary to ensure the safety of themselves and others in their own territory. If these enacted rules are not followed, the security personnel of the shopping centre have the right to restrict the rule breakers' movement in the centre and escort the people who do not adhere to the rules out of the centre. If necessary, the security personnel can also involve the police.

There is an obligation to wear a mask or cover your nose and mouth currently in force in public indoor spaces in Estonia. A public indoor space is a space designated for public use, populated with many people who are not in everyday contact with each other. The obligation to wear a mask does not extend to children under the age of 12 and people who cannot do it for health reasons.

If a person who has had COVID-19 has antibodies, why does he need wear a mask?

Having had COVID-19 does not guarantee that you will not get infected or have the disease in an asymptomatic or symptomatic form. Even a person who has already had COVID-19 can get infected repeatedly and transmit the disease. Wearing a mask, social distancing and other infection safety precautions must continue to be kept up in the near future, until it will be possible to declare the COVID-19 epidemic finished.

In addition to the current COVID-19 disease epidemic we must also look further to the future. In order to be ready for the coming epidemiological challenges as well, the behaviour patterns that help prevent the spread of infectious diseases (including wearing a mask, hand and respiratory hygiene etc.) must become obvious and tacit good societal practices, rather than temporary inconveniences that we want to rid ourselves of as soon as possible.

Can wearing a mask made out of unsuitable material be harmful?

If you are wearing a mask for a longer period of time made out of an unsuitable material and it covers your nose and mouth, then microfibres, dust or other particles may enter the airways and damage them.

According to the Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority the unsuitable materials are:

  • Material that is not breathable – for example, denim, leather, plastic film-like material, etc.
  • Material that is too porous, so that you can see gaps when you look through the material against the light, such material does not filter the air we inhale and exhale.
  • Impregnated material or coloured with chemical agents unsuitable for the skin.

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 distance from other people.

Which material offers the best protection against the virus when used as a mask?

No mask can offer total protection. Any mask (even medical) is only one method which is part of a set of preventative measures - first we have to stay home if we feel unwell or sick, washing hands and keeping a distance are important. When in close contact with an infected person it is advisable to use a respirator mask that meets the requirements of the personal protective equipment. In general, other types of masks can used. All other types of masks are designed to reduce the spread of the virus. The higher the mask filtering capacity and the smaller the particles it can filter, the more effective the mask is. Masks with a sown in or added filter are preferrable.

Is there any point at all to wear a cloth mask or a cowl or is a medical mask the only face covering that makes sense in protecting against the coronavirus?

We can only say what we know. And what we know is that the effectiveness of a medical mask has been tested and it has been proven that it works. When it comes to cloth masks, sleeves and cowls, then covering your nose and mouth any in way possible is better than nothing.

When it comes to the position that masks should only be worn by people who are symptomatic, then currently we find ourselves in a situation where none of us know who might be an asymptomatic transmitter of the infection. There is no doubt that a mask worn by a symptomatic person helps to prevent the spread of the virus to other people but, just to be sure, all citizens should currently wear a mask, as we do not know who among us might be infectious.

 

Last updated: 24 March 2021