At the conference of Germany’s federal and state governments on 19 January, it was decided that it’s compulsory to wear medical or FFP2 masks on public transport (bus, train, tram) and while shopping. Lufthansa has also announced its adoption of the new regulation aboard its flights from 1 February.
What are medical and FFP2 masks? Where can I get them? Can I wear FFP2 masks with a beard? Here are answers to the most important questions:
What are medical masks?
Surgical masks (also known as medical face masks) or FFP2 masks (or KN95 or N95 masks) are to be worn in public transport and when shopping, according to the decision of the federal and state governments of 19 January.
What do these designations mean? The surgical masks with CE marking are used to protect others from coming into contact with infectious droplets from an infected person but offer little protection to the wearer. It usually consists of three layers of plastic fleece. The masks must meet certain requirements and are basically intended for one-time use.
FFP2, KN95 and N95 are protection class designations for particle-filtering masks from various countries. They are designed to protect the wearer of the mask from droplets and they filter aerosols but they also protect others. It is important to pay attention to the CE marking.
FFP2 masks comply with the German standard. N95 masks are approved according to American standards while KN95 masks comply with a Chinese standard.
The Chinese KN95 mask should only be purchased in pharmacies. This ensures that the mask has been tested in Germany, experts advise.
Can I use an FFP2 mask more than once?
In principle, FFP2 masks are disposable products. They should not be worn longer than eight hours, also because they usually have additional electrostatic material to which small particles are bound. The electrostatic effect is lost with prolonged use.
FFP2 masks cannot be washed, and the use of disinfectants can also significantly damage the filter performance. The Münster University of Applied Sciences recommends storing the masks in dry room air for a week after wearing them after which they can be used again.
Alternatively, the masks can be disinfected in the oven at 80°C (top and bottom heat) for at least one hour. This kills the coronavirus. However, both methods – storing in the air or disinfecting in the oven – should be done no more than five times.
Beards and FFP2 masks
According to experts, FFP2 masks are only really effective for self-protection and protection of others if they are worn correctly. For this to be the case, the mask must fit very tightly to the face. Beards can therefore prevent the mask from fitting tightly.
“To be able to wear an FFP2 mask safely, beard wearers can only be advised to shave off their beard,” Christof Asbach, the president of the Society for Aerosol Research, says.
But there is no obligation to shave – at worst, the FFP2 masks protect the wearer less or only as well as the surgical masks.
Where can I get a medical mask now?
FFP2 masks in particular are in high demand at the moment, but you can still buy them in retail stores, online and also in pharmacies. What is striking, however, is the wide price range, from under two euros per mask to seven euros.
The Federal Association of German Pharmacists (ABDA) said pharmacies had already adjusted to an increasing demand. So far, they have supplied more than 30 million elderly and chronically ill people with FFP-2 masks. However, the association expects prices for FFP-2 masks to rise due to the high demand.
Do Hartz IV recipients receive support for the purchase of masks?
The German Caritas Association has called for FFP2 masks to be issued free of charge to people on low income as they may not be able to afford the regular purchase of FFP2 masks. This is not the case so far.
However, the federal government announced on Wednesday (27 January) that FFP2 masks will be issued free of charge to Hartz IV recipients.