Protective face masks meet unprecedented challenges in COVID-19 era
At a time when the world is battling to get through the dreaded coronavirus pandemic, protective face masks have come out to be the simplest, most economical, and highly effective ally in the war against the infection. The trend of protective face masks has surfaced with a stronger jolt of coronavirus being felt across various economies in terms of the elevating mortality rate and paralyzing economic values.
Significant efforts are taken by various government authorities as well as universities for promoting the use of face masks to repress the spike in infection cases worldwide. For instance, University of Utah Health, Latter-day Saint Charities, Intermountain Healthcare, U of U Health, Utah non-profits, and volunteer sewers across the US have introduced a collaborative project, Protect to manufacture PPE for frontline paramedics and medical professionals in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Global Market Insights, Inc., suggests that global protective face masks market size would be around $7.1 billion by 2027.
Not all kinds of face masks are suited for offering maximum security against deadly diseases, in this case, the Covid-19 pandemic. Take a look at the effectiveness and use of different types of masks in mitigating the spread of infections:
Homemade cloth masks
While many might think that facts of prevention of coronavirus spread from cloth masks are a hoax, CDC is now recommending the use of these masks in social gatherings where maintaining a six-feet distance is quite difficult. Moreover, the effectiveness of cloth face masks is largely dependent upon their construction. Below mentioned are the benefits offered by these in crucial times:
Cloth face masks can be made from common materials, adding to an unlimited supply of protective equipment.
They lower the risk of asymptomatic people transmitting the virus through coughing, sneezing, or speaking.
Better than no masks in places where physical distancing is hard to maintain.
Acute shortages of face masks, globally, left various small-scale businesses to change their operations to manufacturing good grade cloth face masks and helping the national economy and its people recuperate from the wrath of coronavirus.
One such small scale enterprise that has come up to help bridge the demand and supply gap is Frogmouth Clothing. The company, which is proficient in making apparels for roller derby athletes, had in 2020 made a temporary switch to developing reusable face masks. Masks designed by the company were deemed to be antimicrobial, developed to form a secure seal on the face, and more importantly, made from the firm’s exclusive Nanoweave fabric.
Up next: risks associated with use of cloth face masks. Being quite handy and economical, cloth face masks have been facing scrutiny on the basis of the given attributes:
They might provide false sense of security: While considered effective to offer some degree of protection, cloth masks are touted to provide relatively less protection than respirators or surgical masks. A study of 2008 specified that homemade face masks may be half as effective as surgical masks and nearly 50 times less efficient than N95 respirators.
Need for double masking: CDC has recommended that increased risk of infection spread is expected to generate need for double masking when using cloth masks. This would mean that the levels of comfort are likely to decrease, eventually leaving the people gasping for air.
The challenge of difficulty in breathing with 2 masks on, has eventually paved way for development and adoption of N95 respirators.
Unravelling the trends and challenges of N95 respirator use
N95 respirators or protective masks have been potentially regulated by government approved organizations like Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Occupational safety and health Administration (OSHA), and NOISH. As per CDC reports, N95 respirators are capable of filtering out at least 95% of particles in the air, inclusive of both small and large particles. These products are indicative of a strong potential of the protective face masks industry.
However, ever since the outbreak of coronavirus disease, the demand for these masks has been massively increasing while the ratio of supply to demand is highly uneven. In this context, more companies have been expanding their offerings and services to meet the demand for N95 respirators.
In 2020, a 3M Co Canadian plant, which holds prominence for supplying 50 million N95 masks a year, was known to help stave off acute shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, supporting the company’s initiative, Ottawa and the province of Ontario publicized their plans of investing 23 million Canadian dollars each to expand the facility post experiencing serious problems as they tried to pile up on foreign made PPE for frontline warriors.
Are valved respirators safe for use?
Distinct varieties of N95 respirators are sold across global protective face masks market. Contemplating on the use of valved respirators, various governments are still debating on the adoption of these. Reason? Their speculated effectiveness in mitigating the pandemic spread. Addressing to various UTs and states in the Indian subcontinent through his letter, Dr. Rajiv Garg, Director General of Health Services in the Health Ministry of India, cited that N95 respirators with valves do not prevent the virus from spreading, as it may allow virus to escape out from the mask.
Protective face masks: more of a challenge than protection?
It’s been over a year since COVID-19 swept and ravaged the world, and in an effort to contain this unparalleled outbreak, face masks emerged as a necessity. However, an increase in the use of disposable face masks has been creating unwanted impacts on the environment, as observed by piles of discarded masks found near the coasts of Taiwan, Hong Kong, France, and others.
Estimates by Greenpeace Taiwan state that nearly 5,500 metric tons of face masks were produced within the span of 3 months since the outbreak, which means that approximately 5 tons of face mask waste were being transported to landfills for dumping. Moreover, Sciencemag.org reports that improper disposal of just 1% of face masks translates to more than 10 million items, weighting about 30,000 to 40,000 kgs. This is when the innovation and development of environmentally friendly face masks come into action.
Recently, a Dutch graphic designer, Marianne de Groot-Pons, declared creating a biodegradable facemask made from rice paper. One of the surprising elements associated with this mask is that it will bloom into flowers when planted post use; thus, eliminating the concerns over increasing landfill pollution. The mask has been designed with a 100% biodegradable model, representing a transformative approach across the protective face masks industry.
Robust government approaches towards promoting the use of protective face masks not only during medical emergencies, but also across various industrial sectors, and rising sales of these worldwide, is expected to scale up the growth curve of protective face masks market over 2021-2027. Higher awareness regarding the benefits of individual use of the products will augur well for protective face mask manufacturers. Sustained impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing cases of allergies and continuous risk to healthcare workers will fuel protective face masks industry trends.