I think it’s ironic that about the same time a PLOs One study and news articles came out announcing a new method using 8-inch rubber bands for improving the fit of the surgical mask to approximate that of the N95 respirator, the FDA removed the N95 respirator from the medical device shortage list. This is relevant to help protect people from infection with Covid-19 because even vaccinated older people are getting hospitalized with the Omicron variant of the virus.
I’m not saying that the new rubber band method to tighten the fit of the surgical mask is not an improvement. It might come in handy when there is another shortage of N95 respirators.
The method mainly targets health care professionals. It would be difficult to persuade everyone in the community to adopt the technique. It’s tough enough to get people to wear masks even in crowded buildings in high transmission areas.
This is despite the CDC study showing that the elderly population continue to be at high risk for hospitalization from Covid-19 despite being vaccinated with the initial series and one or more boosters.
I think it’s hard to achieve a good fit even with the N95 respirators. The free ones distributed by the Federal government early this year were not widely available and fit poorly because the straps were elastic (similar to rubber bands, only flimsier) and loosened quickly, even after using only 2 or 3 times. At least the ones I got did. Prior to retiring, I was never able to pass a Fit test at the hospital using that type of mask.
I think my surgical masks fit better than the N95 respirators, especially after using the knot and tuck method to get a tighter seal.
Now the newer rubber band method to get a better seal uses two large 8-inch rubber bands to make the mid-face portion of the mask fit closer to your face. It looks a little easier to do than the earlier 3 rubber band technique developed a couple of years ago. That one was even tested at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics by emergency room health care professionals, resulting in a small published study (the “double eights mask brace”).
All of the rubber band mask braces techniques were a response to the shortage of N95 respirators. What’s interesting to me is that, as the authors of the PLOs One study point out, there is a fair amount of variability in how well the N95 mask fits. Differences in the shape of a person’s face can account for some of this.
And there’s no shortage of N95 respirators—for now, at least according to the FDA.
If a non-health care professional wanted to use a rubber band brace, it would take some practice to get a good seal. There’s a bit of a learning curve even for a pro.
I think it would be difficult to persuade the average person to get the rubber bands and the surgical mask out of a pocket or a purse and fiddle around to achieve a good fit if you’re just going to run into Wal Mart—where I could not find that the big 8-inch rubber bands are even in stock. They’re pretty much a “3-day shipping” kind of item and could cost as much as $20 a bag.