PPE Personal Protective Equipment for Industry Concept.

While positive developments with vaccinations in the fight against COVID-19 come to the forefront, the need to exercise caution against the virus has no end in sight. Cases continue to spike in many regions across the country, putting frontline custodians of all sectors — especially healthcare — at risk. 

To keep employees safe, each segment of the cleaning industry needs to play their part. In-house facility managers and building service contractors (BSCs) need to be up to date on the best practices for face-covering personal protective equipment (PPE), and distributors need to make sure the correct options are being supplied based on the facility.

Key To Mask Selection

While vinyl masks are a common option and readily available at many retailers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends against vinyl or any other fabric that makes breathing difficult. On the opposite end, users should also be weary of masks that are too respiration friendly. A common example is any mask with exhalation valves. While a tempting option for anyone exercising or working a job that requires a great deal of physical exertion, these masks are also discouraged by the CDC because the design inherently allows potential virus particles to be emitted — giving both the wearer and anyone nearby a false sense of security. 

The ideal masks for non-healthcare workers should fit the parameters of a happy medium: a fabric of at least two layers that is breathable and launderable, and fits tightly to the users face as to not allow any gaps on the sides. Filtration research studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have determined that all-cotton 600 TPI-thread count masks outperform the majority of synthetic alternatives.

Face Shield Options

While face shields are certainly better than no protection at all, the CDC cautions against wearing one in place of a mask due to the large openings around the perimeter. From a protection standpoint, face shields primarily serve as eye protection and serve a closer purpose to goggles than they do masks. In settings such as healthcare or residential care facilities, where communication is impossible with a mask on, the optimal option would be a shield with expanded dimensions around the sides of the face and below the chin.

In researching the effectiveness of various PPE combinations, a UCLA study determined that while face shields alone reduce airborne particle exposure by only 4 percent, combining both a cloth mask and face shield reduces particles by 89 percent — a figure that drops to 77 percent with only the mask and no shield. 

N95 Respirator Need

While N95 respirators are highly effective and filter, at minimum, 95 percent of airborne particles, the CDC encourages those outside of the healthcare sector to avoid using them because of their limited supply. For those in the healthcare field seeking out N95 respirators, it’s important to use an abundance of caution when selecting options. 

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Certified Equipment List is a guaranteed way to receive authentic masks and avoid being scammed by counterfeit options. As outlined on the CDC website, counterfeit N95 respirators include ear loops instead of headbands, decorative fabric, any claim approving children use (children have never been permitted to use these) and the lack of NIOSH markings on the respirator. 

To help minimize confusion, the CDC maintains an ongoing list of suppliers/manufacturers that have been approved to create N95 respirators.