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With the Omicron winter wave beginning to seriously take its toll around Australia, we're all eager to protect ourselves from the virus and attempt to curb its spread. Governments are once again asking citizens to take up face mask-wearing.
It's been a while since we've seen a broad uptake of these pandemic artefacts, so it raises an important question. Are surgical masks or P2 masks the best way to protect yourself, your family and your community from COVID in 2022? Let's delve deeply into these 2 forms of face coverings.
For a comprehensive rundown of cloth masks vs P2 masks, click here.
You may not have heard of a P2 mask before, but you've most likely seen them around. It's a style of respirator mask, very similar in nature to N95 and KN95 masks. P2 masks are simply the Australian standard of these styles of mask, while N95 is the American standard and KN95 is the Chinese standard.
You can get a full rundown of these mask styles here. The salient point is that all 3 masks filter out 94-95% of particles and are widely considered the best face coverings for combatting the Omicron variant.
We probably all agree that when it comes to deciding which style of face mask is best for you, the most important factor to consider is how effective it is in preventing the spread of COVID.
Surgical masks and P2 masks have a lot in common. They are both made up of 3 layers of meltblown polypropylene, containing an electrostatic charge that traps particles.
But where P2 masks distinguish themselves is in their tight-fitting design. This means they provide more comprehensive protection than surgical masks.
The OzSage Community Respirator and Mask Update Working Group makes this point very succinctly: "Unlike respirators where air is breathed in through the mask material filtering the air, surgical masks do not seal around the face, so unfiltered air is breathed in via the gaps around the mask. Respirators filter out these small particles containing virus."
So, there you have it. The tight fit of a P2 mask makes it far more effective than its surgical cousin.
Both surgical masks and P2 masks are most commonly found in healthcare settings, where they are single-use products. For general use by the public, surgical masks should also be considered single-use. There's a significant decline in effectiveness after a surgical mask's initial use.
When it comes to P2 masks, many experts say that they may be used multiple times by the public. America's Centre for Disease Control outlines how healthcare workers can reuse respirator masks after storing them in a paper bag for at least a few days.
Since the coronavirus is believed to survive for 72 hours, masks will become safe to reuse after they've been left for this period of time. Though this practice is only used during periods of shortage in the medical world, it's perfectly acceptable for the general public to follow this method in their day-to-day life.
P2 masks can be reused until they are dirty, damaged or difficult to breathe through.
Surgical masks are generally available more cheaply than P2 masks. P2 masks can be bought in bulk for around $1-$3 per mask, while bulk-buying surgical masks can see costs fall well below $1 a mask.
With that said, the ability to reuse P2 masks as outlined above means this isn't such a simple question to answer. Depending on how much you spend on a P2 mask, it would only need to be reused a handful of times before it is a better value proposition than a surgical mask.
Ultimately, the question of which style of mask is more expensive will vary from situation to situation. In any case, the greater efficacy of P2 masks should make any extra costs easy to swallow.
The same tight-fitting nature of P2 masks that makes them a more effective option than surgical masks can also unfortunately make them slightly less comfortable to wear. With that said, wearing a respirator is far from the greatest hardship the pandemic has placed upon us and the health benefits are undeniable.
If you find yourself unsure of how to correctly wear a P2 mask, following the steps listed here should be a big help.
With P2 masks being more effective at filtering out particles, reusable and in many cases more cost-effective than surgical masks, there isn't much debate here. P2 masks are clearly the best way to go as we brave surging COVID cases.
Find out where to purchase P2 and other respirator masks below.
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