SA now has rules for mandatory cloth masks. Here’s what to look out for, and what to pay

Business Insider SA
Cloth mask recommended dimensions
From the DTI guide on fabric face masks.
  • South Africa now has guidelines on what the fabric face masks – which will likely become mandatory to wear in public – should look like.
  • A guide for manufacturers spells out the critical features when designing masks, and also serves as a buying guide of sorts.
  • Look out for wire inserts you can mould, be very careful about the inner fabric used, and make sure you can wear your mask comfortably for at least 30 minutes.
  • The government intends to pay between R20 and R25 per mask, which it considers reasonable under current circumstances.
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South Africa now has official guidelines on how fabric masks for use by the general public should be constructed.

The guide, published on Wednesday by the National Treasury, was developed with input from local academics, the World Health Organisation, and others.

It forms part of an updated set of regulations for public entities on how to procure personal protective equipment (PPE), which is in short supply globally.

South Africans have been asked to not use medical-grade masks, especially N95 masks and respirators, which should be reserved for medical use. However, wearing a fabric face mask when in public is likely to become mandatory soon, and remain so until SA believes it has SARS-CoV-2 well in hand.

Draft regulations also require any user of public transport to wear a mask.

Fabric masks are not intended to prevent wearers from catching the novel coronavirus. Instead it is hoped pervasive use will stop asymptomatic carriers from inadvertently spreading the virus.

A price list for PPE shows that the government intends to pay a maximum of R20 each for two-layer fabric masks, and R25 each for three-layer masks. Those prices, National Treasury says, "reflect realistic current market prices".

The manufacturer guidelines inadvertently act as a buying guide of sorts for South Africans now looking for masks.

Here is what to look out for when you are buying a fabric face mask.

A wire insert along the top you can mould to your face.

The guidelines stress comfort, and say that a wire insert over the nose-bridge area will make for a closer fit – which is also recommended to make the mask more effective in its purpose of preventing you from inadvertently spreading a virus you didn't know you were carrying.

A removable filter in the middle.

The guidelines allow for two-layer fabric masks, as long as they have sufficient particle stopping power. But ideally masks should be three layers, with the middle layer, or filter, being removable.

Such an "envelope" style design will make for better cleaning, the guidelines say.

"It is recommended that the pocket into which it fits be at least 120 mm by 100 mm to ensure compatibility between multiple masks and filters in production domestically."

An easily-identifiable inside and outside.

"Clear markings or design options must be used to distinguish between the outside of the mask and the inside of the mask," the guidelines say.

A smooth, preferably synthetic-fibre layer on the insider.

The inner layer of the mask is critical, the government guide says. It must be pleasant against the skin, not least of all because irritation could cause wearers to fiddle with them, which doesn't help. 

The inner layer must be soft, must neither repel nor accumulate moisture, and shouldn't shed lint – with loose particles that can be inhaled – when washed.

Synthetic fibres that dry quickly are best, the guide says, and "care should be taken" if you go with cotton or polly-cotton instead.

Ties that don't need you to touch the mask itself.

The elastic or cloth tie-straps that hold the mask in place should make for comfortable wear – and "should not be designed to require that the wearer touches the front of the mask at all."

Different sizes, and a manual.

Manufacturers, the guide says, should have four different sizes of masks for adults, small up to extra large, and three different sizes for children.

"A user-guide MUST be supplied with a mask on how to wear and how to care for it," it says.

Try to wear it for 30 minutes.

Manufacturers working on new prototypes are told to wear their masks for 30 minutes to check for comfort, breathability, and good fit.

That may also be a good idea before you buy multiple masks.

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet.)

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