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Surgical masks and FFP protection: What you need to consider when buying a mask

Surgical masks and FFP protection : What you need to consider when buying a mask

In NRW, there are new mask requirements starting on Monday, Jan. 25. Disposable medical masks can be re-worn if you take care of them correctly. A hygiene expert advises on the use and maintenance of medical masks. In Bonn and the region, there are many places to purchase masks, the prices vary.

As of Monday, medical-grade masks must be worn in many public areas in North Rhine-Westphalia. What types of medical masks are on the market? What do they cost in Bonn and the region? And what do you have to keep in mind when wearing them? Here are the most important questions and answers.

Where do I have to wear which mask?

Starting Monday, January 25, passengers on public transport in NRW will have to wear medical masks - surgical or FFP2 masks. The conventional cloth masks no longer suffice. The same also applies to supermarkets, doctors' offices and places of worship.

■ What are the differences?

"Surgical masks are medical products, normally used in hospitals and doctors' offices, and are subject to certain quality criteria," explains Professor Nico Mutters, head of the Hygiene Institute at Bonn University Hospital. This is not the case with homemade or cloth masks, he says. "The filtering performance depends on the fabric that was used." Surgical masks work better than fabric masks, FFP2 masks even better. But the latter come from occupational safety. They protect workers from breathing in dust or other toxic substances. Whiskers can prevent a tight fit: The only thing that helps here is shaving or trying a different mask shape. "We should get away from the wearing of cloth masks," Mutters says. In the beginning, when there were not enough medical-grade masks, they were the right decision as a temporary solution, he says.

■ How long can I use the masks?

This varies widely. "You should look to see if they show any signs of deterioration, for example, if fibers are coming loose, or if there is visible soiling," Mutters says. Basically, he says, medical masks are intended for one-time use only. Mainly because they usually come into contact with pathogens in hospitals. "That's not the case when people are out shopping or taking the train." That's why, in the expert's view, they can be worn several times without any problems.

How can I clean masks?

While cloth masks must be washed at a minimum of 60 degrees, this would destroy surgical and FFP2 masks. According to Mutters, hanging them up to dry for a long enough time is sufficient. He recommends a mask board: seven masks side by side, changed daily. He doesn't think much of the recommendation to disinfect them in the oven. "The heat can damage the filter material, plus you can't guarantee that everything will be killed.”

■ How many hours can I wear a mask before I have to change it?

It depends on how wet your breath is. If the mask feels wet, you should put on another one. For some people, the surgical mask lasts a whole day, for some only a few hours. FFP2 masks are occupational safety products, so there are limits. After two hours, you should take them off for half an hour. They filter the air so much that it can be difficult to breathe.

■ When should I wear a mask?

Whenever you are in enclosed spaces with other people or cannot maintain the minimum distance. For example, in the office or when chatting with a neighbor in the stairwell. "If you go for a walk outside and keep enough distance, a mask is not necessary," explains Mutters. A short hug, which many people crave, is fine if you are wearing a mask, as long as you don't breathe into someone’s face, he says. It is important not only to rely on the mask as a cure-all, but also to wash or disinfect your hands regularly.

Does it have to be an FFP2 mask?

"For everyday use, less expensive surgical masks are perfectly adequate. The important thing is that everyone wears them, that's the only way everyone is protected," says Mutters. This is because masks primarily protect other people from the droplets that are emitted when you speak, laugh or cough. Protection is better with FFP2 masks, also because they adapt to the shape of the face.

■ Where can I get medical masks?

For many, pharmacies in the region are the number one place to go. But supermarkets and gas stations often sell them now as well, and this is often the cheaper option. In Bonn, the rescue service and fire department supplier Alarmtrakt has adapted to the increasing demand. "In the meantime, we are selling more and more to private individuals," says owner Marcus Vogel.

What can I expect a mask to cost?

From Vogel's point of view, an FFP2 mask shouldn’t be more expensive than two euros, and a surgical mask no more than 50 cents. To protect yourself from poor quality, you should make sure that it is a certified product, but it does not necessarily have to come from Germany (see info box). "Masks from China are also of good quality and certified in Europe," Vogel says. He sells his FFP2 masks starting at 1.50 euros; the price varies depending on the quantity and manufacturer. "I think you can't make a business out of necessity." That's one reason why the Family Physician’s Association, among others, is calling for uniform price controls nationwide.

At a Rewe store in Bonn, FFP2 masks cost 1.99 euros. The surgical masks are available there in various packages, three for 1.79 euros. Pharmacies in the region charge between 2.50 and seven euros per FFP2 mask. The Knauber pharmacy in Bonn offers them in two different qualities. “A mask made in Germany costs 6.95 euros there, the others 4.95 euros," says owner Damorena Grigore. The surgical masks cost 76 cents each. The Stern pharmacy in Rheinbach expects in the coming week even colored FFP2 masks in black, pink, blue and gray for 3.50 euros.

■ Are there bottlenecks?

Marcus Vogel, who has a good overview of the wholesale trade, calls the situation "dynamic," but says there is no reason to panic. "It's not as bad as at the beginning of the pandemic, you currently have to wait a few days for some suppliers." In the meantime, he said, there are enough manufacturers on the market to provide supplies. "We have the whole cellar full," says pharmacist Artur Luenen of the Rosen pharmacy in Sankt Augustin. Prices are currently stable, he says, and the trend is even downward for FFP2 masks.

What about the mask vouchers?

These are available for high-risk groups. A good 34 million people are to be sent vouchers for twelve FFP2 masks by their health insurer in the next few days, according to health minister Jens Spahn (CDU) on Monday. This includes people over 60 years or the chronically ill. The vouchers can be presented in a pharmacy. For each set of six masks, voucher holders will need to pay two euros.

(Orig. text: Nicolas Ottersbach, Thomas Leurs, Fabian Schäfer; Translation: ck)