Getting Creative with Face Masks – Thai PBS World

Since the start of the COVID-virus outbreak, face masks have become part and parcel of our daily lives. Medical and health experts insist that the simple protocol of wearing a face mask reduces the risk of contracting the disease as well as passing it on to others. And in Thailand, unlike in many other parts of the world, no one had any problem donning a protective face covering from day one.

As days, weeks, and months have rolled on, other variations on the once homogenous-looking medical face mask have come about. According to one citizen, “while face masks help keep us safe, the disposable masks are causing damage to our environment. Aside from that, there are some people who can’t bear wearing a face mask so they explore other alternatives which will offer the same protection. In the process, they have become more creative.”

Practical options

Indeed, it is no longer strange to see some people now wearing face mask alternatives, such as those old reliable scarves for ladies. “Scarves or bandanas, aside from being more fashion-friendly, can also be a lot less restrictive than the mass-produced face masks and, therefore, more comfortable. Just dig out an old scarf from the back of the wardrobe and wrap it around your face,” suggests Paz Aquino, a senior citizen who admits not being comfortable wearing tight medical face masks.

For men, especially bikers, a tube scarf comes in handy. This one goes over your head, sits around your neck, and is pulled up to cover the mouth and nose. The absence of straps or strings behind the head makes it very convenient to use and it folds up small when not in use so it doesn’t distract from the overall look. However, those guys might want to have a mask in their pockets for when they are in crowded spaces indoors.

“There are some people who have medical conditions that make it difficult or impossible to wear anything restricting on the face, that is why they explore other options on how to protect themselves during the pandemic,” explained one local health official. “It is still important to remember to wash or sanitize your hands before putting these improvised pieces of protection on and as soon as possible after taking them off, and keep them clean and safe when not in use,” he added.

Masking up

According to World Health Organization, three types of masks are recommended for the public. First, the reusable non-medical masks which comply with the ASTM F3502 standard or CEN Working Agreement 17553, in essence, a non-medical mask meeting WHO essential parameters. Second, the disposable medical masks which comply with medical standards EN 14683 Type I, ASTM F2100 Level 1, YY/T 0969, YY 0469 (or equivalent). Then, there are the other types of well-fitting non-medical masks, including homemade multi-layered masks which are an acceptable option when other masks are not available.

Although some countries have started to relax health protocols and regulations following wide vaccination programs, face masks are still being used and have become part of everyday garb. That’s prompted enterprising individuals to come up with more fashion-friendly and washable face masks in different colors and designs. It is interesting to note that, in the Philippines, where national elections have just been held, face masks were distributed as campaign materials bearing the names of political parties and candidates.

Creative alternatives

In terms of getting creative with face masks, some people and groups have taken the face covering to a whole new level.

A factory in Thailand that employs people with disabilities has designed and produced a special face mask for the hearing impaired. According to Patcharin Silparasmee, chief of education for the facility run by Thailand’s Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, “we developed those masks to help people with hearing loss and also for sign language translators who had trouble communicating while wearing regular face masks.” The design features a transparent portion that allows the wearer’s mouth to be seen.

In the Philippines, 18-year-old Kiara Ray Cartojano developed a wax that would help improve the lifespan of reusable face masks using taro leaves, after she saw the growing problem of face mask disposal in her community. She tried to develop a more sustainable alternative material that would help solve solid waste problems.

In the Netherlands, Marianne de Groot-Pons has created masks from rice paper and filled them with flower seeds. These masks are biodegradable and can be buried in the ground after use, and the seeds inside will have the chance to grow and bloom.

Meanwhile, over in India, a company called Paper Seed has come up with face masks filled with seeds so they can grow into a plant. The mask is made using recycled rags and the plant seeds are put into the cotton material.

Research has found that 129 billion face masks are disposed of every month, which causes a problem for our oceans and our environment.

by Veena Thoopkrajae

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