Malaga. This week's order from the Health ministry, effective from Thursday 21 May, which makes the wearing of face masks compulsory in closed public spaces and open spaces where distancing isn't possible (see page 4), is just the latest development in the debate over face coverings.
From insisting that only those who have symptoms wear them to now anyone over six years old (plus other exceptions), the change in criteria throughout the pandemic has run in parallel to doubts over the suitability of different types of mask, how to wear them and where to buy them. Now, however, with face masks necessary for some 45 million people and recommended for more than a million (those aged between three and five), these doubts need to be addressed: what are the differences between a fabric mask, a surgical mask and a FFP2 type one? Is there enough stock? To what extent are they reusable? And above all: how much is this going to cost each household?
Types of mask
Diego Rodríguez Aylón, secretary of the Official College of Pharmacists of Malaga, is keen to quash the myth that a fabric mask "is worse" than a surgical one: "They are equal in terms of standards; the only difference between them is the categorisation." As a surgical one is a 'health product', they can more easily be imported, hence being more widely available.
Both types, he says, provide a protective barrier for the person in front of you, while FFP2-type filter masks guarantee protection in both directions (also for the wearer). Homemade ones, meanwhile, "are better than nothing".
With regards wearing time, the first two are effective for between four and six hours, while filter masks will last up to eight hours.
Depending on the label, most fabric masks can be reused if washed following the instructions. Surgical and FFP2 masks are ordinarily single use but can be reused in certain circumstances: "If you just nip out for five minutes to get bread and there is no prolonged contact, you can air it at home and use it again the next day. On the other hand, if you go to a busy place such as a terrace or a hospital, even for five minutes, you have to throw it away," says Francisco Florido, president of the same association. In the case of children, who touch them more often, it is best to throw them away after each use, he says.
"For the time being the supply is guaranteed," says Florido. Surgical masks have a fixed maximum price of 0.96 euros, but cloth and FFP2 filter masks can cost between 3.5 and seven euros. Large supermarkets are also selling packs of 10 or 50 units (between 60 and 89 cents a unit), but in most cases these are not reusable.
When totting up cost, a person who goes out every day (for example to work) will have to pay between 18 and 28.80 euros a month to comply with the new regulations.