The pandemic of COVID-19 is not a matter of news to anyone at this moment since global community have collectively agreed that this virus is a huge burden which we have to inevitably live with. There have been many guidelines proposed to ensure that we are able to go about our day-to-day lives safely while looking out for our personal health. One of the most crucial precautions is to wear a face mask. We have seen this message plastered ubiquitously and the imposition of this rule has received severe backlash from the general public as not everyone is willing to put a sheet of material on their face all day every day. While for those who are willing to comply, the common question is what type of mask should I be using? In fact, the pandemic has spawned numerous business opportunities for companies around the world as everyone appears to capitalize on loneliness, fear, as well as scarcity. This capitalistic mindset exists even within the medical industry.
There are different types of masks to choose from and oftentimes the consumer is overwhelmed and poorly educated regarding the subject matter. The main concern surrounding face masks today depends on the reusability factor as most people do not see disposable masks as being very sustainable in the long run. Both reusable and disposable masks have their own set of advantages and disadvantages but it all comes back down the consumer. One of the factors which may primarily impact one’s purchase is based on price as reusable masks have a higher upfront cost while single-use masks may be a cheaper option but the price may add up significantly over time. Then there is surely the option of home-made masks with little to no cost at all if household materials are used in the stitching process. Choosing reusable masks are the way to go for individuals who tend to leave the house frequently and have lots of affairs to attend throughout the day as the non-woven fabric used for surgical masks may get sweaty quickly making the user feel quite clammy at times.
A secondary factor worth noted is availability as not all countries have surgical-grade masks that can be supplied at a consumer level. In countries such as Somalia, India and Mozambique, overpopulation is very significant in certain regions causing a hike in demand exceeding the nations supply. Citizens in such countries also struggle to put food on the table let alone purchase a face mask. It is basically not their priority as dying of hunger would be the equivalent of dying to a virus. Moreover, having surgical-grade equipment is a privilege which can only be experienced by citizens of first world countries. Therefore, having reusable masks is definitely the way to go for many of these people as it is oftentimes the only option. Mandatory requirement for disposable masks in such nations would only cause more problems due to issues relating to public health and hygiene. Even reusable masks require extensive care and attention to prevent other diseases such as skin infection. Thus, it is important to realise that the use of masks in certain countries is more so a burden for the citizens than a liberating factor which allows them to perform their daily routine.
Apart from that, utility and comfort have to be considered when selecting the type of face mask that can be worn on the daily. Reusable masks are far more convenient and they can be styled according to relevant occasion. Single-use face masks such as an N95 can be noticeably bulky to carry around and it may not be the best from a practicality standpoint. The face masks sold on the market today are targeted to allow a fashion statement to be made alongside practical aspects of a face mask. Such a compromise in the name of health can only be made assuming the individual lives in low-risk zones or high-end neighbourhoods. Surgical-grade masks are far more reliable in terms of containing the spread of the virus as single-use masks are able to filter out over 95% of very small particles. Ultimately from a protection efficiency standpoint, disposable masks are more superior but recent studies suggest that double masking may reduce COVID-19 transmissions up to 96.4% so both masks may be the key to attaining full points in terms of utility; but this would rather cause an increased level of discomfort.
All in all, there are so many things to consider when picking the perfect face mask and there may not be a superior choice all around. The type of face mask you choose to wear daily depends on not only your personal preference but also your surrounding environment. The next time you see someone rocking a different type of mask, do not be too quick to judge because there may be a well thought out reason behind that decision. Both disposable masks and reusable masks serve their own unique purpose and it is clear that perhaps we need both types simultaneously to receive optimum efficiency so try out some new options to ensure you make the worth decision for yourself.
Written by: Nu’man Bin Abdul Jamil, Hariiharahn a/l P Rajendran