COVID-19 Masks: Most Effective And Least Effective

By Ellen Kershner on June 4 2020 in Society

N95 masks are by far the safest and most effective masks when it comes to stopping the spread of COVID-19. Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash
N95 masks are by far the safest and most effective masks when it comes to stopping the spread of COVID-19. Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash
  • masks are an important measure to stop the virus from spreading
  • surgical masks are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for protection against COVID-19.
  • Cloth masks may be less effective, especially when there are gaps near the wearer’s jaw, cheeks, and nose.
  • Do not touch it while you are wearing it; if you do, sanitize or wash your hands right away.

Nowadays, no one blinks twice when they see people wearing face masks. Not everyone likes wearing them though, but they are part of living with the threat of COVID-19. Like proper hand hygiene and social distancing, masks are an important measure to stop the virus from spreading.

Picking the right kind of mask to wear is not always easy, though. There are so many to choose from, and now clothing designers and other companies have started manufacturing their own versions. Though some certainly look better than others, how can one decide which is best to keep them safe?

Surgical Masks

Surgical masks filter out larger particles in the air. Photo by Dimitri Karastelev on Unsplash

These loose-fitting, disposable masks filter out larger particles that are in the air. They protect a wearer’s mouth and nose from sprays, splashes, and droplets from other people that could have germs. They also protect other people by reducing the mask wearer’s spreading of saliva and respiratory secretions. However, surgical masks are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for protection against COVID-19.

N95 Masks

N95 masks offer more protection than surgical masks. Photo by Jonathan J. Castellon on Unsplash

These masks are actually respirators and offer more protection than surgical masks. That is because N95 masks filter out up to 95% of very small particles, plus small and large particles. Healthcare workers and others on the frontline often use these. They are not as comfortable to wear as other masks, but some have valves to make breathing through them easier. There are some issues with these masks, though. They are costly, and since they are disposable, the cost is a factor. Also, according to the Mayo Clinic, "some also have one-way valves that release unfiltered air when the wearer breathes out." This would not prevent wearers from spreading COVID-19.

Cloth Masks

You can make a cloth mask at home, but remember that fabric like cotton cannot prevent tiny droplets from entering your mouth or nose.

These masks may be less effective, especially when there are gaps near the wearer’s jaw, cheeks, and nose. In addition, porous fabric like cotton cannot prevent tiny droplets from coming through. Keeping this in mind, wearing a cloth mask is way better than not wearing one at all. It is essential to use one that is made properly and to wear it correctly.

There are websites that provide easy instructions for making cloth masks. They can be made from sheets, T-shirts, and bandannas. It is best to use multiple layers of fabric, and some experts recommend including a filter in between the folds. The Huffington Post reported that one of the best filters to use are HEPA vacuum bags made of polypropylene; paper towels, tissues, and coffee filters have also been suggested. Certain materials like fiberglass should be avoided.

Wearing Cloth Masks

Before wearing your cloth mask in public, it is a good idea to do a run-through. First of all, do not use these masks as substitutes for social distancing. Never put masks on children under the age of two or anyone who has problems breathing or is unconscious.

Have at least two masks with you in case a problem comes up, and try them out at home before going out. To wear it, place the mask over your nose and mouth, and either secure with its ear loops or tie it behind your head.  It should be snug. Do not touch it while you are wearing it; if you do, sanitize or wash your hands right away.

To remove the mask, lift it from your ears or untie it. Do not touch the front of the mask or your face. Sanitize or wash your hands right after you take the mask off. Put the cloth mask in the laundry, and wash it in the machine with soap and water. Feel free to toss it in with other clothing, but remember to wash your hands after handling it.

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