In January this year, multiple European countries banned cloth face masks in an attempt to stem the spread of more transmissible strains of the coronavirus.
Citizens and visitors had to wear single-use surgical-grade FFP1 masks or the more protective FFP2 filtering facepiece respirators or fabric masks that meet the same requirements blocking a minimum of 90% of particles in all public settings including shops. Homemade masks were banned.
Cloth masks offer insufficient outflowing protection when compared to any form of medical-grade mark, which is why physicians and other healthcare workers wear them around patients and when in public.
On February 1, Lufthansa launched a stricter onboard mask policy. The European carrier stopped accepting cloth masks; therefore, all passengers on Lufthansa flights are now wearing surgical masks or FFP2 masks.
To introduce stricter onboard rules, LATAM Airlines Group recently banned a certain type of non-surgical masks, as well as several clothing items from all its domestic and international flights. The South American airline is following international protocols to ensure more passenger safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Starting Aug. 16, Finnair, the air carrier known for connecting flights between Europe and Asia, will require all passengers on board to wear surgical masks, the airline said, joining Lufthansa and Air France in prohibiting fabric face coverings on flights.
Why the ban on cloth and valved masks?
There’s currently no more scientific debate regarding the importance of wearing a mask to prevent COVID-19 infections. While a cover is not a substitute for social distancing, they are a tool to slow the current pandemic spread. Nevertheless, not every mask works the same way.
U.S. Airlines have once again moved the goalpost when it comes to face masks and mouth coverings, banning the use of those masks that feature a vent/valve citing the latest CDC recommendations.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently changed its guidelines to say vented masks do not help prevent the spread of COVID-19 causing airlines to ban this type of face covering.
American Airlines is the latest carrier that has banned the use of such masks after Alaska, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit and United have already done so.
The ever-changing policies are confusing airline passengers and regular people who aren’t even travelling as coming out with such news more than half a year into the Covid-19 crisis doesn’t exactly instil confidence in authorities after people have been donning these masks for months without anyone voicing concern.
In the US, the CDC does not recommend the use of the following masks:
- Masks that do not fit properly, either because they have large gaps, are too loose or too tight.
- Masks are made from materials that are hard to breathe through, such as plastic or leather.
- Wearing a scarf or a ski mask.
- Masks with exhalation valves or vents. The CDC does not recommend using masks with exhalation valves or vents because the hole in the material may allow respiratory droplets to escape and reach others.
- Masks are made from fabric that is loosely woven or knitted.
- Masks with one layer.
While cloth masks may be better than any protection at all, they aren’t sufficient protection against the new coronavirus variants.
A Duke University study released during the summer found that cloth masks including knitted masks and folded bandanas didn’t offer much protection and further found that gaiter masks increase the transmission of the wearer’s respiratory droplets.
The aviation industry has been thoroughly advocating the safety of travelling. Despite growing numbers of COVID-19 cases worldwide, airlines state that the risk of infection on board an aircraft is close to zero.
Nevertheless, to restore the passenger’s confidence, the airlines are taking more cleaning and safety measures across the board.
By Joe Cusmano