Recently, after determining that the novel coronavirus may remain airborne, the CDC made a recommendation to wear cloth face coverings in public, especially in locations where social distancing is more difficult. The idea behind this recommendation is to prevent those that may have coronavirus and don’t know it from transmitting it to others. Seemingly overnight, hundreds of fast-fashion brands began manufacturing masks — from $3 Boohoo masks to $500 Michael Ngo designer studded masks. We decided to do a little research and sleuthing to determine which masks are most protective. Read on to learn what we found:
By now you’ve heard that there is a very short supply of N95 masks across the globe. The reason demand for these masks is so high is because N95 masks are considered the highest quality FFPs, or filtering face pieces. The best FFPs fit snug around the nose, mouth and chin, which is why they’re very effective at filtering out even the tiniest airborne particles. N95 masks are non-valve masks, which means they protect the wearer, but they also protect anybody the wearer encounters. Essentially, the N95 does not let the majority of viral particles in or out, which is why these masks are the gold standard when it comes to battling coronavirus.
While the N95 mask is the U.S. gold standard for masks, the KN95 is China’s gold standard for FFPs. Like the N95, KN95 masks capture approximately 95% of minute particles or particles that are bigger than 0.3 microns. COVID-19 measures approximately 0.12 microns in diameter, which may lead you to wonder how N95 and KN95 masks can protect you from the virus. Firstly, COVID-19 is typically expelled while encapsulated in respiratory droplets, which are often larger than 0.3 microns, and secondly, when properly fitted, these masks create a seal. When comparing the two, KN95 masks are required to pass fit tests to ensure there is less leakage of air, while N95 masks are not. That said, N95s have stricter requirements for breathability when wearing the mask.
Surgical masks are manufactured by layering multiple pieces of paper and/or non-woven fabric. There is a thin malleable wire where the nose is covered for you securely fit the mask onto your face. Surgical masks block the output of large droplets from the wearer of the mask. However, when inhaling, air from outside of the mask can flood in from the sides making it less effective than an N95 mask. While surgical masks provide some benefit in blocking small and large droplets, this mask does not offer comprehensive protection like N95s and KN95s. It is also important to note that once a surgical mask has been worn for 8 hours it should be discarded. Reusing surgical masks is not recommended.
DIY masks, or do-it-yourself masks, are typically made at home. Often these masks are made out of a t-shirt, towel, vacuum cleaner bag, handkerchief or any other at-home fabric. Textile masks operate similarly to surgical masks; however, textile masks only block approximately 33% of droplets, while surgical masks block about 80%. While cloth masks aren’t very effective, the CDC recommends cloth masks in public to curb spread in asymptomatic carriers, not from those that are coughing and sneezing. It also serves as a reminder to keep distance. Most medical professionals recommend using thicker, more closely knit fabrics as they may be more effective. The secret to a more effective cloth mask is making one with several layers. According to military.com, the best fabric you can use for a DIY mask is 4-ply microfiber cloth as it filters out up to 75% of particles. A nice bonus regarding cloth masks is that you can wash them after each use.
There are many types of masks and we know masks can be confusing and tricky, especially given that the CDC changed their stance on the necessity of masks over the past few weeks. While masks add a protective layer, the fundamentals for safety still remain. First and foremost, stay home if you can (especially if you are sick) as this is the simplest way to mitigate contracting COVID-19. Along with staying home, wash your hands regularly, don’t touch your face and stay at least 6 feet away from others. We wish you health and safety!
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