Whatever side of the face mask debate you’re on, it seems that there is a growing acceptance of wearing one to prevent the spread of coronavirus through talking, sneezing or coughing in public spaces.
Naturally, there are face masks that are more effective than others but public health professionals say that any face covering is better than nothing, even if you’ve only got a bandana.
There are essentially three widely accepted masks that have been recommended but it is essential to remember that a mask is only effective if worn properly. Let’s do a quick breakdown of the coverings and how to put them on and safely take them off.
3 Face Masks of a Different Cloth
The most common masks fall into three categories: cloth masks and gaiters, surgical masks, and N95 respirator masks. There are pros and cons to each with some best practices to stay safe.
Cloth Masks come in a plethora of different styles, shapes, and material. Some people prefer to order standard, plain masks, while others DIY their own.
Intended to prevent infected people from spreading the virus, cloth face masks are effective at providing a barrier that stops large droplets from being projected outward, potentially infecting others.
Cloth masks should include filters and be comfortable enough to breathe through. They are typically made with three layers: the inner layer that’s closest to the mouth and often becomes moist from breathing; the middle layer, which provides the filtration layer, and the outermost layer that is exposed to the outside elements.
- Typically homemade
- Comes in a variety of styles
- Can be made with different material
According to the World Health Organization, the following materials have a rating level that combines quality and breathability:
- Polypropylene (16.9) – great for moisture wicking, keeping cool, and resistant to alkalis and acid.
- Cotton knit (7.4) – fibers are primarily cellulose, breathable, and soft.
- Polyester knit (6.8) – comes in a variety of colors and texture. It’s flexible and comfortable.
- Cellulose (4.3) – cotton is a cellulose fiber but for more natural face masks, these can be made from bark or wood, and leaves like hemp.
Surgical masks are effective in containing droplets and they will conform to an individual’s face if it’s donned correctly. For best practices, first check for defects in the face mask. These may include broken loops, rips and tears. The mask should sit comfortably on the bridge of one’s nose and each loop goes over an ear.
There is typically a metal band that helps shape the mask to the bridge of the nose and these face masks are designed to minimize the spread of small particles by directing air upwards.
- Prevents wearer from spreading disease
- Dispose after use
- Made from a material called polypropylene
- Does not fit as tightly as an N95 mask
The best practices for an N95 respiratory mask is to make sure it is snug and tight. Do this by molding the metal band to the bridge of the nose. Adjust straps to assure a snug fit without being too tight. With clean hands, cover the filters and try to breathe in. If there is no air, the seal is secure.
One of the best things about the N95 masks is that it can be reusable. To do this safely, take the mask and place it in a paper bag in a dry place and store it for five days. Be sure to label the bag with the date in order to keep track of the time.
- Most recommended mask
- Secure fit for wearer
- Best protection because it filters from smaller droplets
- Not comfortable
- Limited quantity
- Leans toward being more expensive
For the most part, surgical masks and N95 masks have been reserved for first responders, hospital staff, critical care workers and facilities who provide healthcare for the most vulnerable.
More businesses require their workers and patrons to wear a mask for safety assurances. Of course, one way to “flatten the curve” is to stay home but that option is closed when going to work or running errands.
In addition to face mask best practices, remember to wash your hands with soap and warm water; don’t touch your face or rub your eyes. Remember that each mask has pros and cons from material, comfort, price and re-usability.
More and more people are getting creative with their homemade face mask creations. Here are some tips to keep in mind.
As mentioned earlier, make sure the mask is three layers. Some creative DIY options for the filter layer include coffee filters and vacuum cleaner bags. HEPA and HVAC filters have also been used but proceed with caution because these filters are often made with fiberglass and other chemicals that are harmful to breathe and not a recommended off-label use of products.
How Effective Are Masks Anyway?
As more time passes, the debate increases concerning how effective face masks are. According to the CDC, the recommendation to wear a mask is an advisory to slow the spread of the virus.
As it’s been found, there is a 14-day incubation period where people are already infected with COVID-19 but they are asymptomatic. During this time, and without the protection of masks, there is an increased chance of spreading the virus without even knowing it.
In the long run, the mask is to protect others just in case anyone falls within that incubation period. While there is no hard evidence that proves face masks protect its wearer from contracting the virus, the extra layer of protection blocks larger virus-carrying droplets from spreading. Most face masks cannot protect against microscopic droplets in the air, but with the combination of social distancing practices, sanitation and hygiene, everyone can do their part to slow the spread and protect themselves and the ones they love.