Wearable copper masks are beginning to emerge on the market that promise a better alternative to traditional cloth masks. While copper does provide extra virus-killing protection, copper masks are not designed for people who are at a high risk of COVID-19.
Are copper masks truly better? That question is not an easy one to answer.
Copper masks have been shown to kill bacteria and viruses faster than cloth – sometimes in a matter of a few hours.
One study found that masks with embedded copper oxide properties kill bacteria much more effectively than cloth. “The use of biocidal masks may significantly reduce the risk of hand or environmental contamination, and thereby subsequent infection, due to improper handling and disposal of the masks,” the study concluded.
“If a wearer is infected, virus-laden droplets that come out of their mouth or nose and land on the mask will be killed off in a matter of hours. On a cloth mask, they could live on the material for several days,” wrote Fast Company.
In addition, many copper masks are washable. In addition, if a copper mask wearer were to touch a virus-laden doorknob and then touch their copper mask, the copper mask would kill the bacteria fairly quickly. With a cloth mask, the virus could remain on the mask for days.
Another recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that copper can render Coronavirus ineffective in just about four hours, but experts warn that more research needs to be done to determine if copper masks are a better alternative to cloth for most people.
For example, copper masks are also looser fitting, which could allow more bacteria to reach your mouth and nose through the sides of the mask.
Don’t assume copper masks are a full-proof method to prevent COVID-19, especially if you are at high risk for contracting COVID. “These masks aren’t designed for people who are at high risk of being exposed to those with COVID-19,” Fast Company also wrote.
“Instead, they’re designed to be an improvement on the cloth masks that the CDC recommends people wear in public to curb the spread of the coronavirus,” they said.
Michael Schmidt, a professor of microbiology and immunology in South Carolina, concedes that initial evidence of copper mask effectiveness is encouraging, but warns against adopting these masks until more research is done. Not all copper masks have been properly evaluated for effectiveness against COVID-19.
“You need to know what you’re buying and how to properly use it,” he says. “Do your homework. Don’t buy the first mask you stumble across.”
“If we begin to incorporate copper masks into our strategy … we may be able to short-circuit a second wave that’s coming,” Schmidt told Today.