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Ómicron masks: Everything you need to know about surgical masks and FFP2 versus Ómicron

With the rapid expansion of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, the debate returns to the streets, as already happened with the third wave of the pandemic, the most virulent of those experienced in Spain in February 2021: what is most effective to combat this new strain surgical masks or FFP2 or FFP3?

José María Lagarón, who developed the CSIC nanofiber FFP2 mask, recently pointed out in an interview in Nius that in an indoor space with other people wearing surgical masks he would only feel safe if he were wearing an FFP2 or an FFP3.

For its part, Health insists that what is really important is to wear them well adjusted, for the recommended time of use and, even so, maintain interpersonal distance and good ventilation in closed spaces.

Both are effective in combating the transmission of the coronavirus, the big difference between surgical masks and FFP2 or FFP3 is that the former are designed to filter exhaled air, therefore, they protect not the wearer but rather the person wearing them from possible infection. others by avoiding viral spread when sneezing, coughing or talking.

Meanwhile, the FFP2 or FFP3 protect both others (as long as they do not have a valve) and those who wear them from contagion since they filter the inhaled air, preventing not only the exit but also the entry of contaminating particles into the body. They are cataloged by Health as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and, as the Ministry of Consumer Affairs points out, “they are fundamentally recommended for use by professionals and for vulnerable groups due to medical indication.”

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As for the differences between FFP2 and FFP3, they are found in their filtration efficiency and price. The FFP2 have a minimum filtration efficiency percentage of 92% and 8% leakage to the outside, while in the case of the FFP3 this percentage rises to 98% and 2% leakage to the outside. For this reason, FFP3 masks offer greater safety against airborne particles and aerosols. That does not mean that the FFP2 do not protect with all the guarantees against Covid. In fact, Consumption recommends them for those who care for or are in contact with symptomatic or coronavirus-positive people. While FFP3 is recommended for healthcare personnel, especially when they are going to carry out tasks considered risky, such as intubating patients with coronavirus in the ICU.

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As for the price, while the FFP2 can be purchased for between 0.93 and two euros, the FFP2 can reach between three and five euros, although there are increasingly more offers for both whether purchased individually or collectively.

Important: approval

Whatever you choose, surgical, FFP2 or FFP3, you must always make sure that they are approved masks. For surgical masks, Consumption warns that the CE marking must appear on the label; the reference to the UNE EN 14683 standard, which ensures compliance with a quality standard, and the type of mask (I or II).

In the case of FFP2 and FFP3, in addition to the CE marking, followed by four numbers, the labeling or packaging must include a reference to the UNE EN-149 standard, which ensures compliance with a quality standard; the NR marking, which indicates that the product is Not Reusable, and the R marking, which indicates that it is Reusable, and the type of mask in question (FFP2 or FFP3) and the filter (P2 and P3).

This is the only way to guarantee a minimum filtering efficiency of 92%, in the case of FFP2, and 98%, in FFP3, in addition to adequate support and fixation.

In the case of hygienic ones, as it is not a medical product, the label must provide these data: name of the product, that is, hygienic mask; adult/children size; whether it is reusable or not; instructions on placement and use; composition of the material, whether it is fabric or textile material and how to wash it and the maximum recommended number of washes if it is reusable.

How long can they be worn?

Both in the case of surgical ones and FFP2 or FFP3, Health advises that they do not exceed four hours, and they must be changed even sooner if they become damp or deteriorate. Regarding washing reusable ones, it is worth following the instructions of each manufacturer. Using a method other than the recommended one may deteriorate the product and, therefore, lose its effectiveness.

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They must be well adjusted

Health also emphasizes the hygienic care that must be taken both when putting on the masks and when removing them, and that they fit perfectly to the face, covering the mouth and nose. In this sense, he advises:

– Wash your hands for 40-60 seconds before handling it.

– Only touch the elastic bands of the mask.

– Place it over the nose and mouth, making sure that there are no large spaces between the face and the mask, and the elastic bands behind the ears.

– Pinch the nose clip to adjust it well to the nose.

– Avoid touching the outside of the mask. If you do, wash your hands before and after.

– Before removing the mask, you must wash your hands.

– To dispose of it, place it in a plastic bag and place it closed in the trash and wash your hands again.