09.10.2020 // General news

«What is the future of community mask recommendations?»

Swiss Association for Standardization convenes a round table

Since masks were made compulsory in public transit, we have been seeing them more and more: colourful masks made of fabric. They are designed to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus by minimizing the spread of droplets. Fabric masks can be purchased nearly everywhere, and people who are handy with a needle and thread are even sewing their own masks. However, it remains unclear how well these masks protect the wearer and the people around them.

The use of face masks is intended to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 by asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic persons, especially in enclosed spaces and when social distancing rules cannot be observed. After controversial reports came out about the insufficient protective effect of common surgical face masks and respiratory masks as well as the poor filtration efficiency of commercially available community masks, a great deal of uncertainty with regard to masks continues to prevail.

In a recommendation paper, the Swiss National COVID-19 Science Task Force defined initial recommendations on minimum requirements for community masks. The European Committee for Standardization (CEN) has also defined initial minimum requirements and testing methods for community masks in a CEN Workshop Agreement (CWA), a normative document with limited consensus.

The term «community mask» is not a protected or legally defined term. That means that anyone can market products using the keyword «community mask», regardless of how well the mask protects the wearer and their environment from droplets and aerosols. While harmonized standards exist for surgical face masks under the Medical Devices Ordinance and for respiratory masks under the Ordinance on the Safety of Personal Protective Equipment so that clear requirements to be met by these two types of masks are defined, there are no such standards for community masks. In instances in which there are no legal regulations, standards can close this gap as voluntarily applicable technical regulations. Standards define the requirements to be met by all market participants.

After discussions with various stakeholder groups, the development and publication of a uniform normative document for manufacturers, testers and users of community masks was found to be desired in Switzerland. To reach a consensus between the various stakeholders on the minimum requirements for community masks as soon as possible, the Swiss Association for Standardization (SNV) convened a round table on 24 September 2020.

Over the course of an hour, a number of experts told the audience about their research and experience with community masks.

Speakers at the round table:

  • Dr Peter Wick, Head of Particles-Biology Interactions at Empa
  • Dr Jean-Pierre Haug, COO of TESTEX
  • Professor Ernest Weingartner, Institute for Sensors and Electronics at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland
  • Dr Thomas Gude, Scientific Head of all areas of Food Chemistry and Non-Food at SQTS
  • Nina Bachmann, Head of Technology and Environment/Interim Executive Director of Swiss Textiles
  • Lea Leibundgut, Programme Manager at the SNV

Summary of the round table
Empa, as a member of the Swiss National COVID-19 Science Task Force, reported on its research on the test methods for community masks and the resulting Recommendations for minimal specifications for the community masks for Swiss manufacturers. As Empa is a research institute and not a testing institute, it cooperates with testing and certification company TESTEX. TESTEX presented a compilation of the various requirements for the performance of community masks, surgical face masks and respiratory masks. One of TESTEX major concerns is that future recommendations or standards should take into account the intended use and environment in which the community masks are used.

Research institute Empa and testing company TESTEX are currently identifying a conflict of objectives between filter performance and breathing resistance, which in turn has a direct impact on the wearing comfort of masks. The greater the breathing resistance, the more uncomfortable the user feels when breathing through the mask. It is important here to find a good compromise between comfort and protection. We are not looking to reinvent the wheel, but the gap between medically safe masks and respiratory masks is to be filled in accordance with the PPE regulation. The issue of splash and spray protection requirements for community masks also arises in this context.

The research results of the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW) revealed great variability in the filtration efficiency of various commercially available community masks. The impact of laundering on filtration efficiency was also discussed, but more research is needed here.

SQTS underscored the need for a pragmatic and cost-effective approach to testing and for comparability of the testing methods used. As the industry association of Swiss textile manufacturers, Swiss Textile advocated for requirements that would also be recognized internationally, that would have a high protective effect and that would include a label to distinguish good masks from inferior ones if necessary.

The SNV will henceforth provide information about other planned steps of CEN with regard to CWA 17553 Community face coverings – Guide to minimum requirements, methods of testing and use. In addition, the next steps for drafting a national standard will be explained and discussed. On the European level, further development of the CWA in the European standardization committee CEN/TC 248 Textiles and textile products is planned, but with a clear limitation to textile face masks. The objective of the SNV and its stakeholders is to develop a national standard (a normative document) as soon as possible that manufacturers, testing institutes and users can use as a guideline.

Help shape the Swiss standard!
The SNV invites all interested stakeholders to participate in the drafting of the planned document in an open and consensus-based process. The kick-off meeting with all interested parties was held on 22 October 2020. Next Thursday, 29 October 2020, the scope of the Swiss rule for community masks will be defined.

Please let us know if you are interested in active participation and get in touch with our contact person.

Your contact person for further information:
Lea Leibundgut, , Tel: +41 52 224 54 21

You can find the presentations of the experts here:

The audience’s questions and associated answers can be found here:

You can find additional information here:

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