“Breaking wave”, “wall”, “tidal wave” … The disturbing images multiply to speak of the Omicron variant. And faced with this extremely contagious virus, some doctors believe that FFP2, these duckbill-shaped masks more filtering than surgical ones, could be an option for better protection. Is right ?
The question arises because several of our neighbors have made the choice, in the most risky places, to impose this mask. In Bavaria (Germany having a federal system, decisions are made at the Länder level), wearing the FFP2 is compulsory in transport and shops. In Italy, since December 29, this mask has been imposed on all public transport (bus, metro, train, plane, etc.), cinemas, museums, theaters and sporting events. And in Vienna, Austria, this is the case in all closed places.
A controversy that swells in France
Sunday, Eric Ciotti relied on these examples to push this track. “I call for the generalization of FFP2,” told the Grand jury RTL / LCI / Le Figaro the finalist of the Republicans primary and support of Valérie Pécresse. We will come there, I take the bet, because this mask protects more and that other countries, such as Austria and Italy, have come there, ”added the deputy of the Alpes-Maritimes. In the process, Jean-Luc Mélenchon warned this Monday morning that FFP2 masks would be distributed in LFI meetings “because they are more effective than surgical masks”.
We will distribute FFP2 masks during our meetings. They reduce the risk of contagion below 1%. They are more effective than surgical masks.
– Jean-Luc Mélenchon (@JLMelenchon) January 3, 2022
Another sign that things are moving, this time on the teaching side: the University Claude Bernard Lyon 1 has announced that FFP2 masks will be made available to each student who takes a face-to-face exam.
If for the moment, citizens choose of their own accord to invest in this type of mask, the recommendations have not budged. And questioned on the issue, the ministers retort that these particularly protective masks are reserved for caregivers.
A “false controversy”?
According to a study carried out by the American University of Princeton and published on December 7, 2021, an uninfected person who would spend 1 hour talking with a person positive for Covid-19 would have up to a 30% risk of being infected; but when both wear a properly fitted FFP2 mask, this risk drops to 0.4%. Another strong point: this mask can be worn for eight hours, compared to four for surgery.
However, for infectious disease specialist Eric Caumes, interviewed by AFP, there is “no reason” to generalize the wearing of the FFP2 mask. These masks, more filtering, must “be reserved for caregivers above all”, assured the doctor, evoking a “false controversy”.
“Additional security but real discomfort”
Imposing the FFP2 mask does not seem “obvious” either for Pierre Parneix, public health doctor at the Bordeaux University Hospital. As for the advantages, “an FFP2 mask filters better, that’s for sure. Concretely, a surgical mask filters particles of 3 µm and FFP2 94% filters particles of 0.6 µm. “Hence the interest in looking into this option when the number of contaminations exceeds 200,000 per day in France today.
But the doctor warns: “In a crowded metro, for an hour, if it is well put on and well supported, there is added value. But this is not the silver bullet. While wearing it, I am protected, but what do I do after? When I take it off, if I don’t wash my hands, if I don’t change it every day, if I have a party at twenty in a bar without a mask, the protective effect is really limited… ”
Especially since the technical part is more demanding with an FFP2 than with a surgical one. “The FFP2 must be adapted to the shape of the face. If there are any leaks, it is useless. If you have a beard, it loses in effectiveness, continues the doctor. A poorly put on mask does not have the desired effect. In addition, it is not waterproof: if you put it in the rain, it loses its effectiveness. “
Another problem (of size): “this mask is not comfortable, it is really useful at the level of the ears, it is more difficult to bear for a long time. There is additional security, but real discomfort. “
Third brake: its high cost. A box of 20 FFP2 is around 20 euros, compared to 5 euros for 50 surgical masks. “For the moment, it is 1 euro per mask, but it may go up, warns Pierre Parneix. In Austria, the FFP2 is 5 euros. “And 2.50 euros in Italy. “The state will be able to make efforts for some, but not for everyone,” he worries. However, keeping an expensive mask for a week has little health benefit …
Should we equip teachers?
This financial issue must be taken care of by the community, according to Eric Ciotti: “It is up to the State to provide vulnerable groups, health personnel and public personnel such as teachers with FFP2 masks”. Precisely, this last request comes back in the mouths of certain trade unionists. The general secretary of the National Union of Secondary Teachers (Snes), Sophie Vénétitay, estimated at the microphone of Europe 1 Sunday that the National Education should better protect teachers, and this by providing more protective masks. The masks provided, “made of washable fabric, don’t hold well on the face,” she says. They don’t have bars to pinch on their noses, so they let a lot of air pass through, and many of us as teachers buy us our surgical masks, even FFP2. “
“This would impose a strong constraint on teachers,” contradicts Pierre Parneix. Doing an all-day course in FFP2, you have to manage it, especially with children… We could already improve the ventilation of the classrooms with CO2 detectors, mobile air cleaners and by opening the windows more. “