Fiona Spas rearranges a window display of face masks for sale at iconoCLAD in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 26, 2020. On Thursday, Gov. Gary Herbert approved requests from Salt Lake County and Summit County to require that masks be worn in public in those two counties.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News, File

New standards could show Utahns which masks are most effective

By Graham Dudley, | Posted - Feb. 26, 2021 at 11:42 a.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — New standards released this week by ASTM International could help consumers choose masks that are most effective against COVID-19. But it's not clear when they might appear on Utah store shelves.

ASTM International is a standards organization that worked with government agencies, academic institutions, and industry stakeholders to develop the mask standards, according to CNN Health. Under its guidelines, masks would be categorized as either "level one" or "level two" depending on how effectively they filter particles that could carry viruses like the one that causes COVID-19.

A level one ASTM-certified mask would be able to filter at least 20% of the particles that pass through. Level two masks would offer more protection, filtering at least 50% of particles, but would provide less comfort and breathability.

Such standards would take much of the guesswork out of buying masks, as it's often unclear just how useful any given product might be. Still, with ASTM's rigorous testing and certification process, CNN says some suppliers won't choose to have their products certified, and unlabeled masks will still be available for purchase.

But government agencies may opt to mandate more effective masks in the workplace. Organizations like the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and Occupational Health and Safety Administration could play a role; on Jan. 21, President Joe Biden asked OSHA to "consider whether any emergency temporary standards on COVID-19, including with respect to masks in the workplace, are necessary" in an executive order.

OSHA's review and decision is expected by March 15, CNN reported. The agency, focused on worker protection, could mandate higher-quality masks for employees in every state, including Utah.

ASTM's standards do not apply to medical-grade masks like N95s, which are already required to meet certain specifications.

Utah Department of Health spokesman Tom Hudachko said in an emailed statement that he was previously unaware of the ASTM standards. "We have, and will continue, to follow whatever CDC guidance is on masking," he said.

CDC guidance on masking — including how to wear them, how they should fit and how to double-mask — is available on its website.

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