The Copper Mask Chronicles: How the swanky face mask actually fares against the virus

Back in March, the government mandated that everyone wear face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Almost a year later, these masks didn’t just become as if our second skin, they also turned into a fashion statement, one that suited a person’s needs and taste.

Read: For all our sake, please don’t recycle your face masks

And why not? Besides saving medical-grade face masks for our frontliners who need them the most, we also got to see our creativity and ingenuity at work. The only downside to that, though, is when people buy into a trend without assessing it beyond its face value — literally.

Case in point: Copper face masks.

This month, netizens were thrown into a frenzy over an announcement made by the Makati Medical Center prohibiting the use of copper face masks within its premises. It joined other kinds of banned articles of protection, namely masks with valves or vents, as well as tinted face shields. Only clear face shields and surgical or cloth masks were allowed.

“MakatiMed’s Infection Prevention & Control recommends the use of secure-fit face masks without valves, slits or holes for the safety and wellness of its patients, guests and healthcare workers while inside the hospital.”

Eventually, other medical institutions followed suit, posting reminders that those same kinds of face masks are not allowed to be worn within their facilities.

Then, the Philippine College of Physicians issued the same, with the added counsel that these still “allow the unfiltered breath to escape the mask.”

Even the ministry of health reminded the public that the popular face masks are not included in the Food and Drug Administration’s advisory 2020-01181, or the list of registered medical-grade face masks, released last June 2020 and last updated in December. As of writing, the copper masks are yet to make the list. 

These launched a lot of questions: What’s the real deal? Are copper masks not what they say they are? Are its wearers really protected from the virus?

Yes and no, at least according to science. To be fair, the antimicrobial effect of copper has been observed and documented for centuries. Based on a study published by the American Society for Microbiology, the “substitution of copper alloys on surfaces within a clinical setting has been demonstrated to significantly reduce bacterial colonization,” and the same could be claimed with regards to copper-infused fabrics. Copper’s oxidative property has been proven effective against inhibiting E. coli, salmonella, and Staphylococcus bacteria. 

Perhaps, the question of efficacy lies not on what it’s made of, but rather how it’s made.

(Image: Shopee)

In the memorandum posted by MakatiMed, they raised that copper masks aren’t allowed due to having an opening at the bottom part near the chin through which the virus can still enter or exit.

Then, there’s also the issue of how long the infused copper can prove effective. While sellers of the mask advise a special method of washing copper masks, they can only go through a certain number of washes before the soap or other cleaning agents, mixed with the probably hard water, renders the infused copper inefficient. 

We haven’t even pointed out that not all copper masks are equal. This is proven by the proliferation of fake copper masks as well as copper masks that promote misleading properties.

So, does wearing a copper face mask really protect you from the virus? Yes, but not in any way that a regular face or cloth mask couldn’t. While it isn’t inauthentic, that people are paying a premium price for a mask that does what every other mask is supposed to do — merely being a physical barrier to prevent the spread of the virus — is enough to make its next buyer think twice.

But if you have the cash, why not? All this is saying is, when it comes to safety and efficacy, it’s the science — and not celebrity endorsements — that should count.

Article thumbnail from Coppermask PH

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