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Masks & COVID-19: Types of Masks & Effectiveness

April 23, 2020 by The Parrish Law Firm

Last week, the CDC made a recommendation to wear cloth face coverings in public spaces, especially where social distancing is more difficult to accomplish. The idea behind the recommendation is to prevent those that may have coronavirus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. Seemingly overnight, thousands of fast-fashion brands began manufacturing masks — from $5 Fashion Nova masks to $500 (yep…you read that right) designer studded masks from Michael Ngo. We decided to do a little research and sleuthing to determine which masks are most protective. Read on to learn what we found:

N95 Masks

By now you’ve heard that there is a severe lack of N95 masks around the world. 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 extremely effective at filtering out even the tiniest airborne particles. N95 masks are non-valve masks, which means they protect the wearer as well as anyone the wearer encounters. Essentially, the N95 does not allow viruses in or out, which is why these masks are the golden standard when it comes to battling coronavirus. 

Surgical Masks

Surgical masks are made by piecing together several layers of paper or non-woven fabric. There is a thin shapeable wire around the nose region for you snugly fit the mask onto your nose bridge, eliminating gaps in this area. Surgical masks block any large droplets coming from the wearer of the mask. That said, when inhaling air from beyond your mask can flood in from the sides; therefore, it is not as effective as the N95 at stopping outside particles from coming in. We cannot ignore that surgical masks provide some benefit in blockading small and large droplets, but this mask does not offer complete protection. It is also important to note that once a surgical mask is wet from breathing or after 8 hours of wear time has passed, surgical masks should be discarded. It is not recommended to reuse surgical masks. 

DIY Masks

DIY masks stand for do-it-yourself masks that 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 about 33% of droplets as compared to a surgical mask’s effectiveness of nearly 80%. While cloth masks aren’t extremely effective, the CDC recommends cloth masks in public to curb spread in asymptomatic carriers, not those that are coughing and sneezing. Some medical professionals recommend using thicker, more closely knit fabrics as they may be more effective. A plus point for cloth masks is that you can wash them after each use. 

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 are an additional piece of protective equipment the CDC recommends for use when in public, the fundamentals 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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