To wear or not to wear

Tibard’s face mask

The wearing of face masks or face coverings became compulsory for anyone travelling on public transport in England on Monday, June 15. Here we explore the importance of face masks and the printwear industry’s reaction to the situation.

While out and about on your daily business, whether that’s a trip to the supermarket or just out for a walk, you may have seen a steady increase in the general public wearing face masks over the last few months.

At present, the World Health Organisation states that the widespread use of masks is not supported by high-quality scientific evidence. However, there are some settings where the use of a face mask could be helpful to provide a barrier against the spread of COVID-19.

WHO advises that governments should encourage the use of non-medical fabric masks, which can act as a barrier to prevent the spread of the virus from the wearer to others in certain circumstances. For example, where there are many cases of COVID-19 or for people in the general public where physical distancing of at least one metre is not possible – such as on public transport, in shops or in other confined or crowded environments.

It is upon this advice that the government made wearing face coverings on public transport in England compulsory. More than 3,000 extra staff, including police officers, were deployed at stations to make sure people complied with the new rules when they came into force last month. The compulsory rules do not apply in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, but their governments recommend that people cover their faces where social distancing is difficult, including on public transport.

Manufacturing and design

Given this recommendation from WHO, many companies within the printwear channel over the last few months have been utilising their manufacturing and design capabilities to produce high-quality face masks and face coverings.

As Marcel Hulsman, CEO at Vapor Apparel Europe, says: “Facial protection has become an accepted issue in today’s society. It is normal to wear facial protection when you go out in public. In the first months there was high demand which was answered with cheap low-quality solutions from China. Now people consider the facial mask as a part of their own identity and almost a fashion statement. This is why they want to spend more money to have a high-quality mask that has been personalised.”

This led to the creation of the Vapor Mask. This can be decorated and personalised through dye sublimation. The masks are available in three different sizes and made from Vapor’s Solar UPF50+ fabric combined with a comfortable cotton interior lining. The mask includes a slit for inserting a standard PM2.5 carbon filter pouch for added protection.

Result has utilised its sourcing skills and has been able to procure face masks for the UK market, giving distributors and customers the confidence to stock and supply a range of Result products different from the norm. Sara Sanders-Smith, director, offers her thoughts on the wearing of face masks. She says: “We have been lucky in Europe, not being subjected to virus or pollution threats before, so while we do not have a culture of mask wearing, we have to learn that at present to protect ourselves and remove this virus from our life, if we are communing with others at work or leisure, mask wearing and social distancing is an effective way to minimise spread.”

Neutral’s face mask

Spall Sports is another company which has turned to manufacturing bespoke face masks. For over 50 years, Spall has manufactured sportswear, but has now put that on hold to help the NHS save lives and control the virus.

“We feel we need to do our part and help reduce the rate of infection,” says Saj Khawaja, managing director.

Spall’s bespoke face masks are manufactured in Bradford and are made out of two-ply polyester using dye sublimation, which includes all design and logos in any colourway, making them ideal for businesses and schools. The masks provide a double layer of protection, a soft yet durable construction and can be washed and reused.

The environment

Even during a time of crisis, you can still do your bit to help the environment and to this end, both Neutral and Mantis World have designed and produced face masks which are made from 100% organic cotton.

“During the pandemic we thought about what part we could play. Globally, as more governments advised general use of face coverings, we felt we could offer better than the flimsy, disposable masks that dominate the market and end up in landfill,” says Prama Bhardwaj, founder and CEO of Mantis World. “So we spent many hours researching the science, and designed a face covering that would help keep people safe while treading lightly on the planet’s precious resources. We’re keen to use the technology we have developed for impact measurement and traceability to inform and educate customers on responsible use of face masks. For us, this product embodies the values at the core of the Mantis ethos: People, Planet, Prosperity.”

Lars Bech, founder of Neutral, agrees with Prama. He says: “We were inundated with requests so knew there was a demand. We also saw the potential environmental impact of so many people taking up disposable masks and that they could create a huge problem in the long term. There really needs to be an environmental and ethical option too. At Neutral we believe that if the general public decide they wish to wear a mask or if employers wish to provide masks that there should be an environmental and ethical option.”

Mantis World’s face mask is constructed from 100% soft organic cotton jersey and with 145gsm double ply with a pouch for a filter. Whereas Neutral’s is made from 100% organic Fairtrade cotton and is constructed from two layers.

Types of face coverings

Many countries around the world made the wearing of face masks compulsory in public many months ago. Venezuela, Vietnam, Czech Republic and Slovakia, were counted among such countries. At the time of writing, Vietnam had reported no deaths from COVID-19, while Venezuela had reported 25, Czech Republic had reported 329 and Slovakia only 28. This raises the question; if the UK government had introduced the rules on face masks sooner could our death toll of more than 41,000 have been lower?

This of course is a question that is impossible to answer. All that we know is wearing face masks on public transport is now compulsory and could perhaps become as much part of our daily routine as putting shoes on when leaving the house. But what type of face coverings are advised should you choose to wear one?

There are three main types of face coverings which can be used to help prevent the spread of COVID-19; medical masks (also known as surgical masks), respirators (also known as filtering facepiece respirators – FFP), and non-medical face masks or fabric masks.

Medical masks are made from a minimum of three layers of synthetic non-woven materials, and configured to have filtration layers sandwiched in the middle. These masks are available in different thicknesses, have various levels of fluid-resistance and two levels of filtration. These medical masks reduce the respiratory droplets from the wearer to others and to the environment. They also prevent transmission of the virus from others to the wearer.

WHO provides the following advice for the wearing of a medical face mask: Hands should be cleaned with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water before putting on a clean mask and after removing the mask. These masks should be worn tightly on the face. The wearer should avoid touching the mask while it is on the face and the mask should be immediately discarded if it becomes moist. Importantly, wearing a mask must be combined with other preventive measures including performing frequent hand hygiene and physical distancing of at least one metre.

Respirators (available at different performance levels such as FFP2, FFP3, N95, N99) are specifically designed for healthcare workers who provide care to COVID-19 patients in settings and areas where aerosol generating procedures are undertaken. Healthcare workers should be fit tested before using a respirator to ensure that they are wearing the correct size.

Non-medical masks can act as a barrier to prevent the spread of the virus from the wearer to others. They can be purchased commercially or handmade, and are generally not standardised like medical masks. There are numerous types of fabric masks, they should cover the nose, mouth, and chin and be secured with elastic loops or ties, include multiple layers, be washable and reusable.

Face mask advice

WHO advises that a good non-medical face mask should consist of the following:

  • An inner layer of absorbent material such as cotton.
  • A middle layer of non-woven material such as polypropylene.
  • An outer layer of non-absorbent material, such as polyester or polyester blend.
  • The mask should let you breathe while talking and walking briskly.

Sara adds: “Filtration and cleanliness is important so wearing as high spec a disposable mask as you are able with an effective filtration barrier is perfect, and if you choose to only wear a fabric mask, buy at least five so you can wash and wear a clean one every day.”

As a final note, it is important to remember that face masks or face coverings on their own will not protect the wearer or others from COVID-19. WHO advises that people should also clean their hands frequently and maintain a distance of at least one metre from others.

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