In light of students returning to campus in September, the Department of Education published the ‘Practical Guidance for Further and Higher Education for Returning to On-site Education 2020’. Third level institutions must comply with the 2 metre social distancing regulation while also recommending face coverings – masks or shields. UCD recently announced that face masks are mandatory for anyone returning to campus this year.

With this in mind, The College Tribune investigated which face coverings are the most effective and the most affordable to make it easier for students to follow the HSE’s advice on masks.

According to The Irish Times, medical grade masks are the most effective. The evidence on the single use masks and reusable cloth masks is less clear, but we know that they can still help reduce transmission. The Irish times also reported a UK study which found that widespread use of facemasks could “push transmission down to controllable levels and prevent further Covid-19 waves when combined with minor lockdowns.” A recent study by the University of Edinburgh discovered that masks could reduce how far exhaled breath can travel by up to 90%.

While medical grade face coverings are the most effective, most shops do not sell medical grade face masks/ shields. The HSE have outlined that medical masks are only to be worn by healthcare workers and people in isolation who cannot maintain 2m from people in their household.

The HSE have released guidelines for how face masks and shields must be worn. Face masks should fit comfortably and snugly against the side of the face, secured with ties or ear loops, include at least 2 layers of fabric, and allow for breathing without restriction. Reusable masks should be washed daily with detergent in a hot wash at 60 degrees. Visors or face shields can be worn if you find it difficult to wear a cloth face covering and should wrap around the sides of your face and extend below the chin. If they are reusable, they should be cleaned after each use and stored in a clean area. The HSE website illustrates how to make a mask at home, a section that students can avail of in instances where they cannot afford to buy a mask. A reusable mask is potentially the most cost-effective mask for students if they can wash them by hand or in a machine, rather than buying a large amount of single use masks.

You can also support small Irish businesses that are making masks and selling them online. Here are some we found here at the Tribune:

Face It -€8/€13

Bébhínn -€10

Street Masks Ireland -€6

Urban Aran – €12.(10% of profits from sales go to Solas Cancer Support Centre, Waterford).


Face shields are not as good as face masks but still offer a good level of protection, as noted on the HSE website.  Additionally, experts have commented that N95 masks with front valves are believed to cause more harm than good as they only protect the person against rather than preventing the spread of the virus. This is because they are designed for construction workers to protect them from inhaling dust particles – the outgoing air is not filtered.

Students should be aware that masks are recommended when proximity to others cannot be avoided – if a proximity of 2m cannot be maintained. They are not a substitute to general health guidelines such as regularly washing hands, coughing/sneezing etiquette and physical distancing. As noted in a recent Tribune article, there is a discussion on face shields being worn in lectures as there are concerns of voice projection through masks.

While most masks being sold in shops are not medical grade, the HSE have outlined that medical masks are only to be worn by healthcare workers and people in isolation who cannot maintain 2m from people in their household.

Casey Conway – Reporter