\'Scuba\' Masks Still Popular Despite Effectiveness Concerns
Although it has never been advised, there are still a lot of people who prefer to wear face masks made of thin materials, such as neoprene fabric often marketed as a “scuba” mask, in public.
Although it has never been advised, there are still a lot of people who prefer to wear face masks made of thin materials, such as neoprene fabric often marketed as a “scuba” mask, in public. This type of face mask is relatively thin and elastic, making it less effective in filtering respiratory and saliva droplets that carry the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
On Wednesday Sept. 16, the commuter line departing from Bogor Station, West Java arrived at the Manggarai Station in South Jakarta at around 10 in the morning. As soon as the train door opened, some of the exiting passengers were seen sporting the “scuba” mask.
One of the passengers is Toto, 63, a commuter from Cinere, Depok, West Java. Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic started, he admitted that he had always been wearing “scuba” masks during his activities outside the house. The mask, according to him, is more comfortable compared to other types of masks.
“It’s comfortable because of the elastic fabric. My kids and grandkids at home also wear this [“scuba” mask] because of their varied colors,” Toto said at the Manggarai Station.
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Toto assumed that so far, the mask he had been wearing was enough to protect himself from respiratory and saliva droplets. He had no idea that the use of such a mask was not advised because of its thin and elastic fabric.
“No, I have never heard of [“scuba” mask being prohibited]. As long as [my nose and mouth] are covered. There has never been an explanation,” he said.
Likewise, Karim, 43, a commuter from Manggarai, Teber, South Jakarta has always been wearing such type of mask. The daily commuter passenger admitted to never owning triple-layered face masks.
“It’s nice to wear and airy, whereas cloth mask seems hot and stuffy,” Karim said as he hurriedly went inside the train.
Not only the neoprene masks, a number of commuters in Manggarai Station were also spotted wearing only a multipurpose scarf, commonly known as buff, as they easily went in and out of the station, despite many station officials manning the station entrance.
While waiting for his passenger at a park, he covered half of his face using a multipurpose scarf.
Buffs are also often worn by app-based ojek (motorcycle taxi) drivers to cover their mouth and nose. One of them is Husodo, 50, an online ojek driver form Senen, Central Jakarta. While waiting for his passenger at a park, he covered half of his face using a multipurpose scarf.
When asked about his choice of face mask, Husodo admitted that apart from wearing a buff, he also brought other face mask. It turned out the other mask he brought was a “scuba” mask.
“I wear mask because before picking up passengers, we have to first fill out a health report, in which we have to attach our photographs wearing a face mask,” he said.
Husodo admitted that he only wore the multipurpose scarf while he was waiting for his at motorcycle taxis station (pangkalan ojek). At the station, however, there are also dozens of other online ojek drivers waiting for their passengers.
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Packed crowd was thus inevitable. Physical distance between the drivers was only around half a meter. Some of the drivers were even seen not wearing face masks as they were smoking.
According to Ojik, 42, a face mask seller in North Grogol area in Kebayoran Lama, South Jakarta, the “scuba” masks he sells are always in demand. Every day, he can sell between 50 to 70 pieces of “scuba” masks for Rp 5,000, with around Rp 300,000 daily income.
“Cloth masks are not selling well. A lot of people were looking for this [“scuba” mask] because it’s not stuffy. It’s also varied in patterns [which is attractive] for kids,” said Ojik, who previously used to sell drinks.
Given its popularity, Ojik did not even charging a down payment to customers who ordered the “scuba” mask in bulk. He said he was not worried even though the customer had not taken the ordered face masks in days.
“There is an order for 30 pieces [of “scuba” mask], but it has not been picked up for days. If the person who order this did not show up, I will take it easy. It will eventually sell out. I did not even ask for a down payment,” Ojik said.
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Advice against wearing “scuba” mask
Previously, commuter line operator PT Kereta Commuter Indonesia (KCI) spokesperson Anne Purba has advised passengers against wearing the “scuba” mask and scarfs and urged the use of a more effective face mask.
“Wear at least a double-layered cloth mask,” Anne said in a written statement on Monday Sept. 16.
PT KCI, through its official Instagram account @CommuterLine on Saturday Sept. 12 also explained further the effectivity of several types of face masks. The N95 mask had a 95 to 100 percent effectivity rate in filtering dust, viruses and bacteria; followed by surgical masks with 80-95 percent, triple-layered cloth masks with 50-70 percent and “scuba” mask with 0-50 percent.
National COVID-19 task force spokesperson Wiku Adisasmito said a good cloth mask was made of triple-layered fabric. Meanwhile, Wiku added, sick people or people with COVID-19 symptoms could use surgical masks.
“A good cloth mask is made of triple-layered cotton because of its ability to filter the virus particles. The more layers the masks have, the better the ability to filter such particles,” Wiku said during a press briefing on Tuesday Sept. 15.
Wiku asserted that “scuba” masks and scarves were often made using only one layer of fabric, making it less effective in filtering respiratory and saliva droplets that carry the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
“Neoprene masks were oftentimes be pulled down to the chin, so that it serves no functional purposes. So, use face masks properly in public places. The mask should cover the entire nose, mouth and chin,” Wiku said.
Previously researchers from Duke University in Durham, North California, the United States, have elaborated the efficacy of different types of face masks to prevent COVID-19 transmission in a study titled “Low-cost Measurement of Facemask Efficacy for Filtering Expelled Droplets During Speech”, which is published in ScienceMag on Aug. 7.
In measuring the efficacy of a face masks, the closer the score to 0, the more effective the face mask is.
The study showed that the non-valved N95 mask was the most effective in filtering transmission of respiratory and saliva droplets, scoring 0 percent for its effectivity. In measuring the efficacy of a face masks, the closer the score to 0, the more effective the face mask is.
Meanwhile, the triple-layered medical face mask scored 0-0,1 percent, followed by propylene cotton masks, regular cotton masks and the valved N95 masks with 0-0,2 percent score.
Some mask alternatives, such as neck gaiters and bandanas rank the lowest in efficacy compared to all types of face masks being tested. Bandana scores 0,2-1,2 percent, whereas neck gaiter scores 0,6-1,2 percent. That said, wearing neck gaiters serves no functional purposes, which is similar as to not wearing a face mask at all.
The official study uses the term neck gaiters, whereas Kompas uses the term neck fleece