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What types of face masks are helpful during the coronavirus pandemic?

13th April 2020

It was late last year when a novel coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China. Since then more than 200 countries and territories have been affected by the virus. More than 1.7 million have tested positive and the death toll has surpassed the 100,000 mark.

Although there are a few who are asymptomatic while others are considered mild cases, there are many who experience difficulty breathing, pneumonia, and even suffer respiratory failure. People who have underlying health conditions and the elderly are most at risk.

From social distancing to staying at home, everyone is doing what they can to stop the spread of coronavirus. You probably have heard a lot about using face masks to prevent the spread and to avoid infection. But what are the types of face masks during the coronavirus pandemic?

In this article, we discuss many types of masks and filters, sorted by those that are helpful and recommended, and those that are not recommended.

Recommended Masks

While most types of masks will certainly help, some are considered of limited help and others may be considered overboard. The following masks are recommended for protection during the pandemic.

Homemade masks

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now suggests for people who are not infected to wear cloth face masks or homemade face masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 from asymptomatic patients. Wearing homemade masks is a great addition to proper hygiene and social distancing.

Wear cloth face masks if you are heading out to a public setting like in pharmacies, grocery stores, and other areas with a significant possibility of local-based transmission. Just make sure to wash your cloth face mask after every use. Also, when you are removing it, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. You should also watch your hands right away.

You might be wondering why you should use homemade face masks. First of all, a cloth face mask is made of common materials, which means there’s an unlimited supply. Using them lowers the risk of individuals who are not showing any symptoms from transmitting the coronavirus through speaking, sneezing, or coughing.

Even though this type of mask offers a lot of benefits, it also comes with its own set of risks. First, they may give a false sense of security. A homemade face mask offers less protection compared to other options like surgical masks and N95 respirators. Additionally, wearing a cloth face mask does not reduce the need for other protective measures like social distancing and proper hygiene.

Homemade face masks provide only a small degree of protection to its wearer. But, they can help prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2 from people who are not showing any sign of infection.

Surgical masks

A surgical mask is a disposable mask that covers your nose, mouth, and chin. It is generally used by surgeons to prevent getting germs on their patients. It protects large-particle droplets, splashes, and sprays. It can also prevent the wearer from transmitting potentially infectious respiratory secretions to others.

Surgical masks have different designs but are generally flat and in the form of a rectangular with folds or pleats. There’s a metal strip on top of the mask, which could be formed to the wearer’s nose. It is set in place with elastic bands or straight and long ties. You can loop the bands behind your ears or tie them behind your head.

Surgical masks can’t filter out tiny aerosol particles and can’t protect its wearer from SARS-Cov-2 infection. Air leakage also happens through the sides of the face mask whenever the wearer inhales.

N95 respirators

N95 masks are disposable masks that are made for those who are working with dust, mould, or environmental/medical emergencies. These tight-fitting masks protect the wearer against sprays, splashes, and large droplets.

It can also filter as much as 95 percent of tiny particles including bacteria and viruses, hence the name. The “N” in its name means “not resistant to oil.” N95 respirators are manufactured by several brands. This type of mask is most strongly requested to be saved for health professionals.

The respirator comes in an oval or circular shape and is designed to create a tight seal when worn. It has elastic bands, which keep it firmly to the face. Some variations come with an exhalation valve, which aids in breathing and the accumulation of humidity and heat.

N95 comes in different sizes and that’s why it should be fit tested first before it is used. If not, the wearer won't’ be provided with the appropriate protection that he or she needs.

Once the fit testing is done, the users of this type of mask should continue doing a seal check every time they wear it. It’s also worth noting that a tight seal cannot be achieved in certain groups like kids and people with facial hair.

Masks that are not recommended

While the following types of masks certainly offer necessary protection, they are not recommended because of cost and being considered overkill.

P100 Mask/Gas Mask

Gas masks are made for woodworking and painting. It’s a protective face mask that’s used by people like manual labourers who are exposed to asbestos, lead, solvents, and other dangerous chemicals while on the job. This type of mask is effective but not needed.

The P mask is oil proof but this type is way too much for a virus that’s transmitted through close contact and coughing. P100 masks can filter out 99.97% of the particles in the air. The level of protection offered by a surgical mask doesn’t come close to the level of protection provided by an N95 respirator or a P100 mask.

Powered air purifying respirator

A powered air-purifying respirator protects the person wearing it from contaminated air. It protects the wearer from gasses and vapours. It’s also ideal for those who have breathing problems when wearing a regular mask. Only consider using this type of respirator if you have problems breathing using a N95 FFP2 type of face mask.

Self-contained breathing apparatus

A reusable self-contained breathing apparatus are commonly used by firefighters. It helps protect its wearer by providing clean air when exposed to an environment with polluted air. This type of mask isn’t required during the coronavirus pandemic and would be cost-prohibitive and excessively heavy.

Can face masks prevent the spread of coronavirus?

To put it simply, the answer is yes. However, it’s difficult to define its exact effect especially when it involves a large scale infection. According to some studies, N95 respirators are highly effective when it comes to slowing viral illnesses, provided that it is worn correctly.

Social distancing, washing your hands, and not touching your face when your hands are dirty are still the best and most effective methods when it comes to lowering your chances of contracting COVID-19.