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The people behind the masks

29 Apr 2020

In the global fight against the coronavirus, the year 2020 has so far been defined by four simple but important rules: stay at home, wash your hands, keep a distance in public spaces and wear a mask. While other regulations such as strict lockdown measures are currently being eased, the wearing of protective masks is meanwhile compulsory in many countries, including Germany – at least when shopping or travelling on public transport. And the fashionable aspect of the masks is playing a role too.

If everyone in public spaces wears these masks to cover their nose and mouth, it will be possible to considerably slow down the spread of the coronavirus and therefore also reduce the risk of infection. According to Professor Christian Drosten, a virologist at Berlin’s Charite hospital, 44 percent of all infections are passed on before the infected person starts noticing the first symptoms. Which means that even if someone appears healthy, they could still be carrying the virus inside them and therefore also infect others. And that doesn’t necessarily have to happen via direct contact – after all, the main way that the virus is transmitted seems to be via droplets, i.e. when an infected person speaks, coughs or sneezes. By wearing a preventive mask as a precaution, you are primarily protecting the people around you rather than yourself.

And that is precisely what seems to be discouraging a lot of people. Why should I wear a mask that doesn’t even protect me? The answer is simple: out of solidarity for our fellow human beings! If we all wear masks, we are reducing the risk of unknowingly infecting other people and, in return, therefore also the danger of being infected during contact with others.

A fundamental distinction needs to be made between the different types of protective masks available. When the authorities speak of masks being mandatory for the public, they mean that we should be wearing basic masks that can be fashioned at home – makeshift mouth and nose coverings made from fabric or fleece. What they don’t mean, however, is medical respirator masks, which need to be reserved for those working with patients on the frontline, such as doctors and nurses, carers, emergency services and police officers. After all, they are the ones who come into direct contact with people in their daily work – and therefore also with people already infected with the coronavirus. The best way for them to protect themselves from becoming infected and to prevent the further spread of the virus is to wear so-called FFP (filtering facepiece) masks, which have a built-in filter system that intercepts viruses penetrating from the outside.

Standard face masks are available to buy from pharmacies, drugstores and medical supply stores. But more and more textile companies and fashion labels are now also starting to produce fabric versions – from underwear manufacturers to the automobile industry, companies are showing solidarity and switching their production to mask-making. This will inevitably attract accusations of profit-making, but it only makes sense – especially in a time when they are manufacturing less of their own products and collections – for textile companies to make the move into the mask business. After all, they already have the necessary supply chains and can therefore ensure the order volumes of their producers. Globally operating company Lenzing AG and Austria’s largest textile firm Palmers, for example, have said that from May they want to produce 12 million protective masks a month for the European market. And for many fashion labels, face masks are also a focus of their summer collections, including around two dozen exhibitors from the recent January edition of Neonyt. And let’s be honest, if we’re going to be walking around with our faces half-covered, then we should at least make sure we’re doing it with a good conscience because we’re wearing sustainably produced masks!

To sum up: yes, masks do offer protection! So put your #maskon and show solidarity – without forgetting about the environment, of course!