Since November 2020, the Government of Canada has recommended wearing masks with a minimum of 3 layers to help curb the spread of the Coronavirus. Although vaccine distribution is underway, Canada and the USA are still struggling with the second wave of COVID-19 and the rise in COVID-19 variants around the world. As research continues to develop on the nature of the pandemic, national health authorities are revisiting mask guidelines to effectively prevent transmission of the emergent viruses.
Why we need high quality reusable face masks
COVID-19 virus particles are spread in the air through droplets or fine sprays from coughing or sneezing, and cause infection when the virus is breathed in. Additionally, some people can be asymptomatic, meaning that they take up to 2 weeks to show symptoms of infection, meaning they could be spreading the virus unknowingly for a long period of time.
Our understanding of this phenomenon has led to the increased use of face masks in everyday urban life in order to help prevent COVID-19 particles from escaping into the air and being passed onto others, as well as to reduce the chance of becoming sick by breathing in potentially contaminated air.
Why we need 3-layer masks and filters
The government’s suggestion of using masks with more layers has prompted citizens to ask what they can do with the masks that they currently own. A 3-layer mask can be made by inserting a filter layer inside a two-layer fabric mask. According to Dr. Jing Wang, a clinical instructor at the University of British Columbia, a 2-layer cotton mask is about 60% effective against the Coronavirus, with the effectiveness raised to 80 or 90% when using a third filter layer - which can be just as protective as a disposable surgical mask.
With reports in 2021 that variants of COVID-19 have emerged, some have begun to ask if we should start wearing two masks to add more protection. Although some American officials such as top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci have promoted double-masking, Canadian expert Colin Furness from the University of Toronto says there isn’t enough evidence suggesting that double-masking is an effective solution. On the other hand, Dr. Lynora Saxinger from the University of Alberta states that double-masking can be done as long as the masks maintain a good fit on one’s face and are still breathable.
Why 3-layer masks offer better protection against COVID-19
Amongst the disposable mask shortages and reservation of medical-grade personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, reusable fabric masks have grown in popularity due to being more cost-effective and environmentally-friendly than disposable masks.
However, due to the rapidly-developing nature of the pandemic, there is a lack of regulation over what constitutes a protective reusable mask. As a result, health authorities have stated that properly-made reusable masks should allow the wearer to breathe normally, as well as have several layers to prevent virus particles from passing through.
A simple way to determine the effectiveness of a mask is to hold it up to the light. Anesthesiologist Dr. Scott Segal from North Carolina says, “If light shines in between the cloth's individual fibers, it probably means that viral particles can get through”.
In the early days of the mask mandate, companies rushed to mass-produce masks to put on the market, with some offering a varying range of masks with different numbers of layers. Here are some types of masks that you should consider avoiding:
- Single-layer masks. Cheaper masks that are made with fewer layers and thinner material are better than wearing no mask, but allow droplets and virus particles to pass through easily. Although these masks may be breathable, they only offer the illusion of protecting yourself and others around you from transmitting disease.
- Exhalation valve masks. One popular type of mask contains a valve on the side to help the wearer breathe out easier. Although the mask blocks the user from breathing in virus particles, the valve allows virus particles to escape and does not act as a barrier to contain the droplets when exhaled, which puts others at risk.
Highly contagious COVID-19 variants
Since the beginning of 2021, researchers around the world began to report variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes the effects of the COVID-19 disease. These variants originate in various locations from the U.K. to South Africa and Brazil, with varying increased abilities to infect an individual or replicate for transmission.
A virus is considered to be a variant if there are enough changes made to its genetic code to make its characteristics different from the original virus strain. The variants are still mostly similar to the original strain as they have not yet mutated into entirely new viruses. Infectious disease expert Dr. Lisa Barrett from Halifax says “current data shows that COVID-19 vaccines will likely work against this new variant, but more research needs to be done”.
Additionally, the virus will only mutate if it is allowed to replicate - without creating more copies, the virus won’t have chances to change its gene structure. With this in mind, it is more important than ever to continue wearing a mask and exercising other public health measures in order to prevent further spread of COVID-19 and its variants.
Although the end of the pandemic seems in sight with progression in vaccine distribution, COVID-19 continues to alter our lifestyles and its continued spread has resulted in the mutation of riskier variants. The constant change in personal protection advice from the government can seem confusing, but our collective understanding of COVID-19 evolves over time, and it is important that we improve our habits while building upon new knowledge.
Now is the time to protect your friends, your family and yourself with 3-layer masks. We must be vigilant about preventing disease transmission by continuing to practice preventative measures such as wearing masks, limiting contact with others, physical distancing and hand hygiene.
Best 3-layer masks with filter pocket for Canada and USA
Since launch, Masked For Work’s breathable and reusable masks have been designed with 3 layers according to the World Health Organization’s guidelines - months before Health Canada began recommending 3-layer masks!
We also carry PM 2.5 filters, which add an additional 5 protective layers when inserted into our masks’ built-in filter pocket. Rather than layering up on masks, you can easily have 8 layers of breathable protection in one convenient and compact package.