What protection does your face mask offer? – Nonwovens Industry Magazine
Before the pandemic, medical face masks and surgical respirators were primarily used in the healthcare industry, with public use rare in most regions. These medical-grade products undergo rigorous testing and review by regulatory agencies, such as the FDA and NIOSH. At the start of COVID-19, however, supplies of these medical devices were limited. Government agencies and public health experts have advised the general public to wear cloth masks or other readily available masks, which are not regulated, and to save N95s for medical professionals.
Meanwhile, recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health experts have simply emphasized the importance of wearing masks consistently and correctly. Faced with the many obstacles to mask use, such as hesitation from new users, these guidelines have given little emphasis to the different levels of safety and effectiveness offered by these products. As countries around the world issued national health emergencies and many municipalities issued mask-wearing mandates, people around the world began wearing face masks for the first time in their daily lives.
Manufacturers were initially unable to keep up with this increase in demand. To quickly respond to this limited supply of masks and respirators, the FDA issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to bring these products to market more quickly. The EUA outlined reduced testing requirements for personal protective equipment (PPE) that reduced the time it takes to bring these products to market.
Efforts by new and emerging manufacturers, testing facilities, and regulatory agencies have given manufacturers ample time to make these products widely available and have provided essential protection for healthcare professionals and the public. The wearing of face masks, combined with social distancing, improved hygiene practices and the proliferation of free testing sites, has led to a reduction in positive cases and hospitalizations.
Over the past two years, however, a lot has changed. Vaccines have greatly improved the success of prevention efforts, and the supply of N95 has stabilized. Masks with greater effectiveness against COVID-19 are now widely available. The FDA also revoked the EUA, requiring medical face masks and surgical respirators to undergo the full suite of tests before being marketed for medical use.
Overall, these changes were intended to provide the greatest protection to the greatest number of people. However, consumers are now faced with countless mask and respirator brands to choose from. With limited tools to assess efficacy and safety, consumers often rely on online reviews from other consumers to inform their purchasing decisions.
These reviews, in general, do not come from scientific sources and take into account many factors. Some popular products prioritize comfort and style without providing product performance data. Worse still, a few bad actors have taken advantage of the existing fear and uncertainty to generate profits.
To combat misleading and ineffective products, government agencies, public health experts, manufacturers and retailers have issued consumer advisories. The FBI is warning consumers to watch out for fraudulent medical equipment related to COVID-19 and the CDC has issued guidance on how to spot counterfeit products. 3M has issued specific misrepresentation guidelines for their products, and companies like Amazon have implemented product serialization services to allow customers to confirm a genuine product. However, none of these measures address the authenticity of product testing.
With many brands listing test results on their sites to build customer trust, some containing doctored or fabricated reports, how can consumers tell if test results are legit and how can credible manufacturers tell the difference? their products from others in the market? Even hospitals, municipalities and commercial buyers are not immune to this kind of deception. Nelson Labs regularly receives requests for report testing and authentication, but cannot meet the increased demand for requests.
In response to this confusion, Nelson Labs launched the Nelson Labs Mark, a product testing verification program that authenticates test reports and provides objective, verifiable performance data from its global laboratories. The offer will start with the verification of masks and respirators tests, but will expand to other products according to market needs.
To further increase consumer trust, the program uses two-factor authentication for consumers to easily confirm the legitimacy of a product’s testing. The company will allow products that have been tested with Nelson Labs to use a Nelson Labs Tested or Nelson Labs VerifiedTM registered mark and place a unique serial number on their product packaging and marketing, as well as a web listing which includes detailed test reports describing the performance of the product.
Today, face masks have become a household staple, as well as a requirement for many businesses, employers, and municipalities around the world. Despite the ubiquity of these products, widespread confusion still exists about the differences between mask brands, the amount of protection offered, and whether a product has truly been tested. The Nelson Labs brand hopes to address this critical need for transparency and provide consumers with a science-based resource to help inform their purchasing decisions.