With omicron sweeping through Europe rapidly and governments tightening anti-COVID restrictions, it is important to know which masks provide the best protection and how to use them.
Omicron has caused Spain to have the highest number of cases seen since the start of the pandemic. Over the last 14 days, according to the Ministry of Health, there have been more than a million new cases (1,061,627).
Frequent hand-washing, safety distances, ventilation and masks continue to be the most effective measures for protection, along with vaccination. The Spanish government has recently re-introduced mandatory mask-wearing outdoors again unless a safe distance can be kept.
Which masks protect against omicron?
The Ministry of Health, Consumer Affairs and Social Welfare recommends the use of surgical masks for the general population. They provide protection as long as they are used correctly, covering the nose and mouth, and if the person avoids touching areas such as the eyes, nose and mouth.
The purpose of these masks is to avoid the outward transmission of infectious agents. “They are designed to filter the exhaled air and protect those around you,” stated the Ministry. This means that the person wearing the surgical mask will protect those around them by preventing the spread of droplets.
Droplets are expelled when the person sneezes, coughs or simply talks. The danger is when they come into contact with the eyes, mouth or nose of another person, which could lead to a COVID infection.
Therefore, surgical masks only provide protection if the other person is also correctly protected. If they are not, then you are exposed to the virus.
Regardless of the type of mask, they must not be used for longer than four hours and they should be thrown away if they get wet.
FFP2 or FFP3 masks are Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), and they are recommended for health professionals “to create a barrier between a potential risk and the user”, according to the Ministry of Health. However, they can also be recommended for vulnerable groups.
This type of mask filters the inhaled air to prevent contaminated particles from entering the body. They also last for no more than four hours. FFP2 and FFP3 masks protect against the SARS CoV-2 virus. This is the main difference from surgical masks.
In countries such as Italy or Austria, the use of FFP2 masks, which are considered to provide better protection, is mandatory for access to public transport or establishments such as supermarkets or theatres.
Those that have a wire over the nose are especially effective at protecting against COVID-19.
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