Mainz/Berlin As of Monday, North Rhine-Westphalia will be imposing a more stringent mask requirement. Only surgical masks, FFP2 masks or KN95 masks will be permitted on local transport and in stores. What does this mean for citizens?
Riding the bus and train or going shopping: In the future, this will only be allowed with a medical-grade mask, i.e. a surgical mask, or with the even more protective FFP2 mask or one with similar specifications - this is what the German federal and state governments have decided. In North Rhine-Westphalia, the regulation will take effect on Monday.
Everyday masks made of cloth will no longer be allowed on public transport or in supermarkets. The new regulation has people seeking clarification, and not just with terminology. Here are some important questions - and answers:
What are medical-grade masks?
They are simply called surgical masks and are normally used in hospitals and doctors' offices, explains the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM).
The multi-layered masks that are mostly green or blue are made of special plastics, must comply with the EN 14683:2019 standard and carry a CE mark. They primarily protect other people from the droplets that are emitted when speaking, laughing or coughing. The amount of self-protection one receives is limited with these masks, but is better the tighter the mask fits.
Do these thin masks really have advantages over cloth masks?
Yes - and that's because of their structure. "Special fibers are processed in the surgical masks. These are usually non-woven fabrics, also known as nonwovens, where the fibers are randomly arranged," explains Frank Drewnick of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz. As a result, they generally do not have such large pores through which the particles could otherwise pass. "In addition, the fibers are electro-statically charged and repel particles even more effectively.”
Drewnick heads a research group that has examined various materials in terms of their filtering performance, including many types of cloth masks, but also medical masks.
"Surgical masks perform significantly better in our tests with regard to filtering performance compared to everyday cloth masks. That is, they filter significantly more corona-relevant particles from the air we breathe," says Drewnick.
And FFP2 masks - are they not medical masks?
They come from the field of occupational safety. They protect workers from inhaling dust or other toxic substances. FFP masks are divided into three categories, depending on their filtering performance. The ubiquitous FFP2 masks must trap at least 94 percent of test aerosols, explains the BfArM. They therefore not only protect other people, but also offer the wearer very good, but not one hundred percent, protection against infection.
The prerequisite, however, is that they fit tightly against the face, so that the airflow cannot enter and leave the mask at the edges during breathing. The mask should suction up to the face when inhaling. Whiskers or scars can prevent a tight fit: The only thing that helps here is to shave or try a different mask shape.
How do I recognize an FFP2 mask?
They must comply with the EN 149:2001 standard and have a CE mark and a four-digit number printed on them. This gives users an indication of the testing body - 0158 stands for Dekra, for example, and 0121 for the Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the German Social Accident Insurance (IFA).
As well, the letters "R" or "NR" are found on the mask - masks with R are reusable, masks with NR are not, according to the manufacturer. Under certain conditions, however, NR masks can also be used multiple times, according to estimates by various experts. A manufacturer's name or brand should also be found on the mask.
Are there fake FFP2 masks in circulation?
Yes, there are. This makes it all the more important to check the labels carefully. In the EU Commission's Nando database, for example, the four-digit numbers can be matched to the respective testing institute online. If the number does not appear on the product, you should be suspicious.
What about other abbreviations, for example K95?
K95 masks come from China and comply with local standards, explains the Schleswig-Holstein Consumer Center. According to the consumer protection agency, they have a similar filtering effect and thus offer comparable protection to an FFP2 mask.
The president of the Federal Association of German Pharmacists (ABDA), Gabriele Regina Overwiening, cites other equivalent protective masks that are suitable - they bear designations such as N95, P2, D2, or CPA.
CPA stands for corona pandemic respirators. These have undergone a simplified testing procedure, for example at Dekra, IFA or various Tüv organizations. All these masks do not bear a CE mark or FFP imprint. The certificate confirming that the test has been passed should be enclosed, explains the German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (Baua).
How much do FFP2 masks and surgical masks cost?
This is difficult to answer. FFP2 masks are more expensive than surgical masks, the unit price is between 3 and 7 euros, depending on the supplier. One should become suspicious if they are sold very cheaply. The OP masks are often available in a package - doing a price comparison is worthwhile. Sometimes 50 pieces cost 20 euros, elsewhere you find the same amount for 50 euros. The masks are available online, in drugstores and pharmacies, but also in some supermarkets.
Will the products now become more expensive?
Possibly. If demand rises disproportionately to supply, then significant price increases cannot be ruled out, explains the German Medical Technology Association, emphasizing, "Inflated prices, as we know from the first lockdown, were a problem of individual distributors over which manufacturers have no influence." Manufacturer prices for purchasers were contractually agreed and in line with the market, he said.
Why are FFP2 masks sometimes so expensive in pharmacies?
ABDA president Overwiening points out that they do not regulate these prices. Each pharmacy has its own purchase conditions and must calculate the costs for personnel and space - and thus also the selling price. Consumers have no choice but to compare the prices offered by different suppliers.
What about the FFP2 mask vouchers from the federal government?
They are available for high-risk groups. Around 34 million people are to be sent vouchers for twelve FFP2 masks by their health insurer in the coming days, according to health minister Jens Spahn (CDU) on Monday. This includes, for example, people over 60 or those with chronic illness. The coupons can be presented in pharmacies. For each six masks, those with coupons have to pay two euros.
Are there enough FFP2 masks?
According to the pharmacists' associations and medical device manufacturers: yes. The manufacturers are currently able to deliver the required products, according to the German Medical Technology Association.
"I don't see any bottlenecks at the moment," says ABDA President Overwiening. Pharmacies are well prepared for a large demand for FFP2 protective masks and surgical masks, she adds. "There are currently many reliable manufacturers and trusted distributors from whom pharmacies can obtain the masks.”
What about the multiple use of FFP2 masks?
The BfArM writes with regard to surgical masks: These are disposable products that should be changed regularly and disposed of after use. At the latest, when they are completely moist.
FFP2 masks can be marked by the manufacturer with the letter "R" as reusable and can then be used for several days at a time, for example when shopping - provided they are still intact and have not been heavily soiled. It is important not to touch the edge or the inside of the mask when putting it on or taking it off, and to store it between uses in such a way that as much air as possible reaches the mask.
According to the Münster researchers, even non-reusable FFP2 masks can be reused up to five times - for example, by air-drying them for at least a week. This means you need at least seven FFP2 masks, one for each day of the week.
Alternatively, they propose placing the mask in the oven. However, there is also criticism of this. IFA expert Peter Paszkiewicz, for example, advises against it.
Are the days of cloth masks now numbered?
No. The new regulation for medical-grade masks only applies when on buses, trains and trams and while shopping. At private meetings or on the streets where masks are compulsory, cloth masks can still be worn.
And they may also continue to be worn in combination with the surgical mask, for example when shopping or commuting to work - in order to increase self-protection.
Aerosol researcher Frank Drewnick explains: "The big problem with surgical masks is that they don't fit tightly around the face. As a result, air can flow in and out at the edges when breathing, and thus also possibly microparticles containing pathogens. Cloth masks can help here: "If you put something over it, for example a well-fitting cloth mask, it presses the surgical mask against the face. That closes those gaps," the expert explains.
"The over-mask can possibly ensure that the surgical mask fits more tightly to the face and that the possible leaks are closed," Drewnick says. "As a result, the surgical mask filters better than if you use it alone.”
Orig. text: German Press Agency