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The short answer is copper masks may not be as powerful as you think. Copper does have antimicrobial properties, but don’t be nudged into impulsive purchase.
Does Copper Kill Germs?
Speaking to the New York Times, Dr. Karrera Djoko, a microbiologist and biochemist at England’s Durham University, confirms that copper does kill microbes. When germs come in contact with copper, copper releases reactive ions that puncture the microbe’s exterior and damages its genetic material.
But it’s a different story when copper is made into face masks.
Copper face masks are only as good as the way they’re manufactured.
- Loose face coverings — loose enough to allow contaminated droplets to enter — don’t provide adequate protection, even if it’s made of pure copper.
- Copper Make-Up. Masks need enough copper to zap viruses, and this copper content must be near the surface. If the copper and the SARS-CoV-2 don’t come in contact, then the copper mask is no better than a regular mask.
- Repeated disinfection can strip off the ions that give copper masks their edge against pathogens.
There’s a time element to copper, too; a microbe doesn’t simply vanish once it touches copper. It takes about 45 minutes for copper to slash the amount of virus on its surface by half.
What About the Copper Masks Trending in the PH?
One thing’s for sure: the trending copper masks are not medical-grade. It’s not included in the list of registered face masks for medical use in the Philippines, but it can be used in non-medical settings.
However, the point of contention for many medical experts is the chin hole in many copper face masks sold here.
Makati Medical Center
MakatiMed mandates tight masks “without valves, slits, and holes” in its premises. Its advisory contains a photo of a copper mask with a gaping hole in the chin area. An earlier advisory poster explicitly names copper face masks as prohibited protective gear.
In a PhilSTAR L!fe article, MakatiMed Director Dr. Saturnino Javier pointed out that these masks — ones with exhalation valves and vents — may not prevent the wearer from spreading COVID-19 to the people around them. These holes allow respiratory droplets to be dispersed in the air.
Philippine College of Physicians
The Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) strongly and explicitly discourages the use of masks with vents and valves, publishing a photo of a copper mask. Echoing MakatiMed, the PCP states that the masks allow unfiltered breath to escape. Masks should completely cover the face from the bridge of the nose to under the chin.
Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases
The PSMID affirms the virucidal property of copper, but it doesn’t recommend the use of masks with slits and valves. Like MakatiMed and PCP, it stresses that holes and slits defeat the filtering purpose of a mask.
Should You Buy Copper Masks?
It’s best to side with the medical professionals. If the copper mask has holes, then it allows droplets to leak. At this point, it’s not an issue of protecting yourself. It’s about protecting others from possible infection from you.
Bear in mind that many COVID-19 patients are asymptomatic. Surgical masks are still the more sensible choice.
Slits and holes aside, copper masks offer a layer of protection, but so do cloth-with-filter masks and face shields. So it’s a question of whether the alleged copper ion mechanism justifies the price difference between a copper mask and an ordinary mask. Consider also that the efficacy of copper in lab-controlled settings may be different from how copper works in real life, per the NY Times article.
Lastly, any benefit that a copper mask provides will be in vain if you don’t wash your hands and follow social distancing protocols.
Masks are not a guarantee. To fully subdue the virus, we must fight “caution fatigue” and follow safety measures to a T.
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