Are AR/FR COVID-19 Face Masks Considered PPE? – Part 2

The COVID-19 pandemic has dominated our 2020 news cycle. Wearing face masks has been proven the most effective method to significantly reduce spread of the virus. Recently, non-FR neck gaiters and balaclavas have been questioned by several studies for their effectiveness at preventing spread.

One study cited appeared to claim that neck gaiters may actually be worse than wearing no mask at all. It’s important to note that the test referenced in this study used a method which looked at a masks ability to block exhalations, which has nothing to do with how well it protects you. Second, this study is based on very thin non-FR fabrics, which are completely different from FR fabrics. Let’s break that down.

To understand the performance of neck gaiters and balaclavas to prevent COVID-19, we need to first understand how COVID-19 mask performance studies are presented. There are two main variables for mask studies, consisting of inhalation (how well it protects you), and exhalation (how well it protects others). The test for inhalation is called filtration efficiency, and the recent study often cited did NOT conduct this test, so no conclusions can be drawn regarding protection of the wearer.

Filtration efficiency is stated in terms of the percentage of particles that would be stopped and retained by a filter medium. Non-FR gaiters are typically made of thin, synthetic fabrics which have a low filtration efficiency. FR gaiters and balaclavas are typically CAT2, and made of thicker fabric with superior filtration efficiency.

Pros and Cons of Mask Options

It’s important to know that with proper use, care, and maintenance all three mask types, neck gaiters, balaclavas, and FR-face masks offer good-to-excellent protection against COVID-19 transmission. This is due to the AR / FR fabric having high filtration numbers, in the 70% range – comparable to surgeons’ masks.

For a detailed explanation of mask options, let Tyndale’s Vice President of Technical, Scott Margolin explain how to stay best protected when out in the field.

Each option offers a high-level of filtration, but gaiters and balaclavas are typically rated lower on the COVID-19 protection scale. This is due to the factor of human error. When wearing a face mask, you typically use the ear loops to put on and take off the mask, without touching the inside of the mask.

In contrast, when wearing a balaclava or neck gaiter, you typically pull down, wear around our neck, then pull back up when needed. By adjusting the balaclava in this manner, possibility of COVID-19 transfer from the hands to the inside of the garment is much higher. These particles then stay next to our mouth and nose, key entry points for COVID-19.

To recap, gaiters and balaclavas keep you warm and safe from AR / FR hazards, and reduce possibility COVID-19 transmission. As with any product, proper wear, storage, and disinfection are keys to safety success. Remember, if you choose to wear a gaiter or balaclava instead of a face mask, proper use is absolutely critical.

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