A study on the effectiveness of facemasks that was published in JAMA on November 23, 2020, was a little disturbing. When comparing a surgical mask with head ties vs a procedure mask with ear loops, there was a large difference in fitted filtration efficiencies (FFEs) (71.5% vs 38.1% respectively). Even more concerning, there was also a similar trend of poor FFE performance for N95 respirators designed with ear loops vs those with head straps. The bottom 6 FFE-performing N95 respirators used ear loops to hold the mask in place on the user’s face and they all had less than 90% FFE. The FEE performance of surgical masks secured with head ties had a range of 66% to 77%.
Data on the actual mask filter performance were not reported, and only 1 surgical/procedure mask with head ties/ear loops was included in the study. The original investigation by Sickbert-Bennett and colleagues provides much-needed data to help ensure that health care professionals caring for patients with respiratory viral illness are provided with an effective mask for respiratory protection.
At the end of the day, we have survived using the ear loop masks in post-acute care since early March, the beginning of this crazy pandemic. Going forward, we must appreciate this type of research as we never thought this pandemic would happen and no one knows what the future holds. God willing, we will never have to worry about a pandemic again in our lifetime; however, if we do, I want researchers like these on our side!
Stay the course, stay strong, stay well, mask up, and stay tuned!