Not just any mask will do — buffs and masks with valves are pretty ineffective

Wendy Knowler Consumer journalist
Masks with a valve are not an effective way to protect ourselves from the tiny droplets that transmit the coronavirus. File photo.
Masks with a valve are not an effective way to protect ourselves from the tiny droplets that transmit the coronavirus. File photo.
Image: dolgachov/

They may be more comfortable and easier to breathe through, but face masks with valves or vents, masks with a single layer of thin fabric and neck buffs are not effective in containing the droplets we expel when talking, sneezing or coughing.

That’s according to updated mask guidelines published by the trade, industry and competition department this month for the local clothing and textile industry, pertaining to the making of masks intended for use by the public.

They were developed from recommendations by the World Health Organisation as well as the staff of Stellenbosch University’s chemistry and polymer science department, and national health department officials, among others.

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula is currently considering proposed new recommendations for air passenger masks, based on those guidelines. They’ve been welcomed by the SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA).

“They address the issue of masks in a more detailed manner; and most importantly, ensure that there is standardisation of requirements,” said SACAA spokesperson Kabelo Ledwaba.

“Current evidence still supports the fact that the coronavirus is mainly spreading via the respiratory droplets of infected persons,” he said.

This is some of what is proposed for passengers:

  • Passengers are required to wear a facial mask (cloth or surgical) before entering the airport and throughout their journey.
  • Single-layer masks and bandannas or buffs are not recommended as there is minimal to no protection offered. A two-layer mask or facial covering must cover both mouth and nose as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • For passengers, it is recommended that the mask fits snugly over the nose and under the chin, without exhalation valves.
  • The N-95 mask and higher-level respirators are not recommended currently for flight or preflight use.
  • Face shields are not meant to function as primary respiratory protection and should be used concurrently with a medical mask.
  • Consideration must be made for passengers with dementia, autism, breathing difficulties and other conditions as they will not be able to tolerate face masks.
  • Passengers who refuse to adhere to the preventive measures in place should be refused access to the airport’s terminal building, to the aircraft cabin, or disembarked, if the event takes place before the aircraft doors are shut, and should be removed from the airport premises by the competent authorities according to national/local legislation.

“These remain proposed guidelines until such time they are published as guidelines by the [transport] minister,” Ledwaba said.

To the few passengers who refuse to co-operate with airlines and airport management, SACAA has a very clear message: “The wearing of masks is a legal requirement in SA, and therefore, passengers, airport and operator staff and crew must always ensure compliance.”

Asked if FlySafair would be adopting a “no buffs/bandannas or vented masks allowed on board” policy in light of the guidelines, the airline’s chief marketing officer, Kirby Gordon, said the airline would take its lead from SACAA.

“We’ll await instructions from them,” he said.

As for current mask compliance on board FlySafair’s flights, Gordon said it's good “for the most part”.

“But we have had some issues with a few customers,” he said.

“Our crew do the best they can to monitor general compliance but there have been a few interactions with difficult passengers.

“They are offloaded when we’re still on the ground, or isolated on board and then met by SAPS on arrival, if the incident occurs during flight.

“Of course we’d rather avoid these sorts of interactions but safety will always remain our primary concern and in the age of this pandemic, correct mask wearing is as much a matter of safety as wearing your seat belt is.”

 GET IN TOUCH: Wendy Knowler specialises in consumer journalism. You can reach her via e-mail: or on Twitter: @wendyknowler

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