Commercial airline passengers who wish to travel abroad during the coronavirus pandemic need to double-check their chosen face mask fits current policies.
While many airlines in the U.S. have deemed fabric face masks to be acceptable pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE), some international airlines are showing a preference for surgical-grade face masks.
Finnair – the largest airline in Finland, updated its coronavirus mask policy on Monday with an announcement that updated passengers it would no longer be allowing cloth face masks onboard.
"Starting 16 August, we will no longer accept fabric masks on our flights," the airline wrote. "We accept surgical masks, FFP2 or FFP3 respirator masks without a valve or other valve free masks with the same standard (N95). Please remember you need to wear a mask throughout the entire journey."
The airline elaborated on its website that fabric masks won’t be accepted because "they allow air to escape and do not provide comparable protection." Passengers are also expected to bring their own masks when traveling on Finnair.
Airlines that have shown a preference for surgical-grade masks have cited research that states surgical masks filter small particles better than fabric-made masks.
In the U.S., however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined that cloth and non-surgical-grade face masks are suitable options so long as it has multiple layers and is free of exhaust valves or vents.
Additional mask features the health agency says Americans should keep an eye out for include an adjustable nose wire, correctly-sized or adjustable ear loops and be opaque when held up to a light source (to help determine whether it has enough layers).
The CDC recommends double masking and social distancing when possible. It has also found that surgical masks are fluid resistant but it doesn’t provide "a reliable level of protection from inhaling smaller airborne particles." Instead, the CDC says N95 respirators filter "at least 95% of airborne particles," but asks that Americans prioritize these masks for front-facing healthcare and essential workers.
The varying guidance from the CDC and international airlines come as the global coronavirus pandemic nears its 18th month. Some countries have extended travel bans or reentered shutdowns as COVID-19 variants emerge.
According to the Johns Hopkin’s COVID-19 Dashboard, there have been more than 211.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide. More than 4.4 million people have died from complications related to COVID-19 infections.
At the time of publication, more than 4.9 billion vaccine doses have been administered around the globe.
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