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New standards will take the guesswork out of choosing the most effective face masks

February 18, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.

Compression ratio: 21.3%. 1 min read.

Cloth face masks are displayed for sale in a store in Madrid on January 22, 2021. - To fight against the emergence of more contagious variants, French and German authorities are recommending to wear surgical or the higher protection FFP2 masks instead of cloth face coverings. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP) (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images)

Americans may soon be able to choose between two clearly labeled levels of face mask protection while browsing store shelves.

The new national mask standard outlines minimum fit, design, performance and testing requirements for face masks and would require user instructions, package labeling and a permanent tag on the product.

According to the ASTM guidelines, a lower performance "level one" designation would require the product to filter at least 20% of particles -- something that would make the mask easy to breathe through but that would provide less protection.

How quickly consumers will see ASTM-labeled masks on store shelves may come down to how the standards are adopted by government agencies, such as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA).

OSHA is a regulatory agency that enforces workplace and worker protection, and OSHA adoption of the standard would mandate the use of ASTM-certified masks for most private sector employees in all 50 states.

The memo asks OSHA to use the ASTM testing procedure to create a higher level of protection for workers in non-medical environments with less exposure that may not require an N95 mask.

National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory Deputy Director Jonathan Szalajda, who led the work group for the face mask standard, told CNN that discussions on the next steps have begun within the CDC.

As experts become increasingly concerned about the spread of more transmissible coronavirus variants, some believe the draft mask guidelines need to require a higher level of protection to protect the American public.

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