Before 2019 ended, a novel coronavirus spread in China. Since then, it has emerged in different countries, affecting the whole world. Millions of people are affected, businesses have to shut down, and the Government continues to look for ways to abate the situation.
SARS-COV-2 is the name of the virus, and it causes the diseases that we know of as COVID-19. Some people experience mild symptoms, while others have life-threatening conditions. Those who are old and with underlying conditions face the highest risk of suffering from serious symptoms.
It is why health organisations and authorities have provided guidelines to follow to keep yourself and your family safe. Face masks are considered the best option, particularly when preventing this infectious disease from spreading.
Because of all the talk surrounding masks, many people have begun buying them in startling numbers. A recent study even showed that Google searches were up in Taiwan since they had their first case.
But before rushing to purchase masks, you must know the different types. This way, you will understand which face mask is the most effective. This blog post will address uncertainties behind wearing masks, which ones to pick, and when to wear them.
The Three Main Types of Face Masks
Ever since the pandemic, three primary types of masks have been used around the world:
- Cloth face masks (which is usually homemade)
- Surgical masks
- N95 respirators
The question is: which is the best mask? We will explore what these masks are below.
Cloth Face Masks
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing face masks. Due to the ongoing low supplies of surgical and N95 masks, homemade face masks made of cloth are acceptable.
The Australian Government, though, is not in complete agreement. The rate of transmission is not alarming in the country, which is why people are allowed to forgo the recommendation. Regardless, it is essential to keep yourself safe, especially when in public places.
Aside from maintaining enough distance from other individuals, everyone should wear face masks. Also, proper hygiene should be practised as soon as you get home. The following are other guidelines from the CDC regarding cloth face masks:
- Wear the mask in public areas, including pharmacies and grocery stores.
- Children who are under the age of two should not wear a mask to avoid any breathing issues.
- People who already have breathing problems, are unconscious, and cannot remove the mask without help from others should never wear a mask.
Homemade face masks though are not as effective as surgical and N95 masks (up to 50 times less efficient than N95). They are not designed with the same level of technology that can protect the wearer against the virus. However, it is always better to wear a mask than not at all. It is recommended to wear a face shield, which wholly covers the front and sides of the face. It should also extend all the way down to the chin.
These masks are reusable, which make them a cheaper alternative to the other types of masks. It is crucial that you wash them after every use. Also, never touch your face, including your eyes and mouth when removing it.
The second option is a surgical mask, which is what many people can access these days. They are designed to be thrown right after use. Using a face mask should cover the nose, mouth, and chin. Surgical masks, also known as N88, can protect the wearer against large-particle droplets. They are also more effective than homemade cloth masks.
Surgical masks can look the same, but they also have different designs. However, the cover itself is rectangular with folds or pleats. The top part has a metal strip, which can be adjusted to fit around the nose. You can also find surgical face masks with filters, which are a series of layers that protect you against virus particles from reaching your skin.
Therefore, the more filters you have, the better the protection. It is essential to understand, though that filters can make the masks harder to breathe. When picking a surgical mask, you should always consider the comfort level, especially since you will use it as you walk and do other tasks.
Because of the supply shortage, researchers agree it is not dangerous to reuse a surgical mask. Still, they should not be used for the long-term since it increases self-contamination risks.
Compared to surgical masks, N95 respirators are tighter. Therefore, they provide a better fit and can protect the wearer more. These respirators can filter out approximately 95% of tiny particles, including both bacteria and viruses.
N95 masks are not like cloth and surgical masks, especially concerning the shape. They are either circular or oval. When worn, they create a tight seal to the face. There are N95 masks that come with an exhalation valve. This attachment allows the user to breathe better. Plus, it protects against the accumulation of humidity and heat.
These masks, however, are quite complicated. They are not a one-size-fits-all solution. It is recommended to fit-test the cover first before using. This way, you can be sure the mask forms a proper seal around your face. Otherwise, the mask itself will not be sufficient, especially in providing adequate protection.
N95 respirators should always be checked to ensure they are still sealed properly. If you wear one, you should assess how tightly it conforms to your face before you go out. Also, a tight seal is not achievable to wearers who have facial hair.
Which Face Mask Should You Wear?
Clearly, N95 respirators offer the best protection. If you have the option to buy them, you should. They can block out 95% of microscopic particles, which can include the coronavirus. However, there are many instances when it is difficult to find supplies of N95. If you cannot purchase these masks, surgical masks will certainly do.
You can still get ample protection if you choose to wear a surgical mask. However, be sure to practice physical distancing. Also wear a face cover or shield and a pair of gloves, if possible. If you go out wearing a cloth mask out in public, you should be careful. Make sure that you have a sanitiser ready. It is also recommended that you wear gloves. While cloth masks do not offer as much as surgical and N95, little protection is better than none.
When Should You Wear a Face Mask?
The World Health Organisation suggests that everyone should wear a mask, especially those who care for people with COVID-19. Therefore, those working at the front lines should be prepared with them at all times. Meanwhile, if you have symptoms, including sneezing and coughing, you should wear a mask as well.
If you will go out and it will not be easy to stay away from other people, you should wear a mask. Some places that require a cover or sock include:
- Clinics and other healthcare locations
- Grocery stores
- Offices and other workplaces
When wearing the mask, you should make sure that you can still breathe well. It should cover the nose and mouth properly. If it slips while you walk or talk, you should tighten it in place. Also, check for gaps, so you know you do not have to worry about particles touching your face.
If it is a homemade mask, you should wear it after every use. Remove it from behind without touching the front of the mask.
Face masks should be considered a preventive measure. Its main use is to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Therefore, it will not stop you from getting COVID-19. You should wash your hands and ensure to practise good hygiene while the pandemic still exists.
The consensus though is that everyone should wear a mask, except if the wearer is only two years old. Those who may have breathing problems and asthma may want to use a surgical mask instead of N95.
Be aware that the effectiveness of the masks varies, as explained above. N95 provides the best protection, and a surgical mask is better than a homemade cloth mask. If you will be in a public area and you will inevitably be around other people, you should always be ready. Wear a mask properly and make sure to wash your hands or shower, if possible, as soon as you get home.