Key lessons learned

  • A major standards organization has released guidelines for masks intended for use by consumers.
  • ASTM International standards divide face coverings into two groups based on breathability and fit.
  • Companies are not required to comply with the standards at this time.

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) first recommended the use of masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, people scrambled to stock up on whatever they could use. use. But nearly a year later, the public safety organization ASTM International released the first national standard for face coverings.

The standards, released last week, break down the specifics of the minimum requirements for a mask’s fit, design, performance, care and testing.They also emphasize the need for user guides, labeling, and tags.

These are the first mask standards ASTM International has created. This organization is responsible for standards for a wide range of products, including cribs and sports equipment.

Experts welcomed the move. “It would be nice if there were standardized recommendations that people could refer to,” Richard Watkins, an infectious disease physician and professor of internal medicine at Northeastern Ohio University School of Medicine, told Verywell. “The ambiguity causes confusion.”

Stacey Rose, MD, assistant professor of internal medicine and infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, agrees and tells Verywell that being “helpful” to the mask industry is that there must be “a way.” more standardized approach to guide the development of effective face masks. ”

Labeling will also allow consumers to easily see if the respirator they are considering meets the International ASTM standards.

What does this mean for you?

ASTM’s new mask standards can help make sure you know what you’re getting when you buy a mask. But, for now, they’re voluntary. Time will tell if companies decide to adopt them.

Mask standards

To certify that their face coverings meet ASTM International standards, companies will need to test their masks in accredited laboratories. If their product meets the standards, they will be given a specific label.

ASTM International’s labeling requirements focus on two main things: a visor’s breathability and its filterability. The international standard ASTM tests to see if a mask can filter out particles as small as 0.3 microns, the size at which aerosols containing viruses and bacteria can have.

Specific instructions divide the mask into different levels based on the filtering process:

  • Primary: This requires the visor to filter out at least 20% of particles. That will make the mask easier to breathe in, but won’t provide as much protection to the wearer as a mask at higher levels.
  • Level two: This certification is given to masks that filter out at least 50% of particles, but are likely to be less breathable than a class one respirator.

Do companies have to comply?

Rose pointed out that companies are not currently required to adopt standards. “Compliance with these standards is voluntary,” she said. “In other words, private companies that manufacture face masks will not be required to comply, unless another regulatory agency such as the Food and Drug Administration is required to comply with those standards.”

However, there may be more guidance on mask standards. In an executive order issued in late January, President Joe Biden ordered the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a workplace safety inspection and oversight agency , establish guidelines for workers on mask safety.Biden specifically asked OSHA to “consider whether any urgent temporary COVID-19 standards, including masks in the workplace, are needed.” If OSHA determines that they are necessary, the executive order requires them to be issued by March 15, 2021.

Rose noted that the ATSM standards also echo CDC guidelines for masks, which recommend that masks be made of multiple layers of fabric and fit snugly over the face.

While companies don’t need to adopt standards, Rose says they can be useful to consumers – and can even help drive sales, which could encourage manufacturers other comply. Unfortunately, that can take time.

“For now, I recommend that consumers continue to use CDC guidance in mask selection, especially since the new ASTM standards are still voluntary at this time,” Rose said.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available as you read. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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