For most of the pandemic, many Americans have been wearing a face mask made of cloth per the CDC's longstanding recommendation to do so. But many experts say that cloth masks were supposed to be a temporary measure until more N95 masks were manufactured — enough for hospital staff and regular people alike.
Obviously, wearing cloth masks for coronavirus protection is better than wearing nothing at all. But the fact remains the same: After a year of the pandemic surging in the U.S., we still don't have anything better than what was available a year ago.
To reach a level of benefits at the population level, rather than at the individual level, the government needs to step up with action and guidance such as official standards.
Not All Face Masks Are Created Equal
By now, most people know that some face masks are better than others. Even a mask that works extremely well for one person may not work as effectively for another. That's because face mask quality (in regards to protecting the wearer and anyone around them) is dependent on fit, material, and construction. In the year we've had to battle the coronavirus, we still haven't come up with guidelines for these three factors.
Medical-grade masks, unlike cloth masks, adhere to pre-set standards for fit, construction, and material. Masks like the N95, FFP2, and KN95 have been shown to work much better than cloth masks in slowing the spread of the virus. But these masks are also missing something important: instructions on how to wear them and fit them properly to your face. Making matters worse, experts have found fake medical-grade masks in America that are only 1% effective.
There are other issues with standards: no guidelines exist around testing masks, there are no certification for cloth masks, and many masks aren't labeled with the manufacturer's information. Although it's been a year, according to CDC guidelines, the U.S. still has a massive shortage of N95 masks, to the point where N95 masks are not recommended by the CDC for the general public.
Face Mask Distribution Differs Across the World
But it's not like this in every country. In Taiwan, every citizen received a new, high-quality face mask every week, starting in April of 2020. The distribution was regulated and overseen by their government, and it worked really well: Taiwan's death rate is more than 1,000 times lower than the U.S. Taiwan is now offering vending machines for government-approved face masks.
Similar to Taiwan, Hong Kong has been distributing six-layer masks that were laboratory tested to every citizen. And Singapore just successfully distributed free, multi-layer reusable face masks for the fourth time. These achievements aren't impossible to replicate in the U.S.
In America, where we are struggling to stave off of the virus, we must pay attention to the new variants that have traveled all over the world. The B.1.1.7 variant has been found to be 50% to 70% more infectious than the original strains of the virus, and masks are a necessary tool in the fight against the variants. With these new variants, medical-grade masks are unbeatable, and the U.S. government can and should take action to standardize cloth masks as long as it keeps recommending them over medical-grade masks.
What You Can Do
KN95 masks are being sold in many local supermarkets and pharmacies, often right next to similarly-priced cloth masks. For many consumers, however, these masks may be untrustworthy given they're manufactured in and exported from China. And because we don't have certification programs, official distribution channels, or government-recommended manufacturers or mask companies, there is a lot of confusion and skepticism about what really is the best mask.
By now, our government would have manufactured and distributed high-filtration masks to all U.S. citizens. There would be guidelines and certifications for third-party businesses that make masks to follow and meet. The government would have changed their framing of masks from "protect yourself" to "protect others with your mask while you are protected by others' masks" to promote solidarity, teamwork, and unification.
We have extensive information from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore about how they ramped up manufacturing and successfully distributed high-quality, previously-tested masks to every single citizen (including kids). This could be used to offer aid faster to more rural, at-risk, and poorer populations. And experts have been urging people to switch to higher-grade masks as soon as possible.
There is merit in getting information from a single source about how to identify the best mask, how to put it on and fit it to your face, and even how often to wash your mask depending on your activity levels. Giving these details to the public empowers people to upgrade their masks without being swindled into buying a fraudulent mask. As long as the public is left in the dark without the government shining a light on the most relevant and important information, we can only do our best with what we do know.
Upgrade Your Mask
If you think that your face mask protection is inadequate, don't hesitate to upgrade. Look for cloth masks that come with a nose wire, more than one layer, and better material than just cotton. Luckily, all of Gaiter King's masks fit the bill, allowing you to get the best fit, material, and construction at an affordable price.
We put a lot of thought into making our awesome masks: they offer antimicrobial and antiviral protection, reusability, and a great fit.
Want durable neck gaiters or face masks that offer antimicrobial and antiviral protection? Check out our shop!