Updated: Jun 23, 2020
In light of the Covid-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, health authorities recommend wearing protective equipment in the form of a face mask, especially in public settings and when interacting with people in close proximity. Wearing a face mask can significantly limit the spread of the virus when combined with strict hygiene measures and social distancing.
Protective face masks produced in the EU fall into three main categories: surgical masks, reusable cloth masks, and FFP (Filtering Face Piece) masks.
Surgical masks are typically used in healthcare facilities to protect the wearer from droplets released by sneezing or coughing. Their accessibility and standard look make them suitable for use in education institutions and in retail. They provide sufficient protection for those who are in direct face-to-face contact with other non-symptomatic people, such as in a university setting. Surgical masks are easily discarded after use.
Reusable barrier masks with multiple layers of fabric provide a similar level of protection as surgical masks. They can be used repeatedly after washing and drying at a high temperature which makes them appropriate for use in a standard office environment. Small and medium enterprises will find it convenient to provide this type of protective equipment for their employees. Larger companies with over 5,000 employees can also opt for reusable cloth masks or consider a combination of different types of face masks depending on their operational needs.
FFP2 and FFP3 masks provide the highest level of filtration out of the three categories in the EU, while still ensuring comfortable and breathable use. They are most needed by healthcare professionals or other people who are in contact with patients known or suspected to be infected. Face masks with code FFP2 protect against solid particles, dust, and liquid irritating aerosols, while FFP3 masks also protect against toxic aerosols. This filtration mechanism makes them suitable for manufacturing and other facilities where employees are exposed to irritating or harmful substances.