The scientific evidence on mask-wearing is clear. Wearing a mask helps to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus. For this mitigation approach to be effective, everyone needs to be on board, even those who aren’t showing symptoms of COVID-19. Read on to find out about the different types of coronavirus face masks, when to wear them, and how effective they are to figure out which option will be best in any given situation.
Disposable Face Masks
Disposable face masks also referred to as surgical masks, are loose-fitting devices designed to be worn by coronavirus patients and their caregivers. Those who have access to them can also wear disposable masks in public settings where isolation from other people isn’t possible. They’re meant to be worn just once, as wearing them over prolonged periods of time can leave them damaged, soiled, or difficult to breathe through.
Once wearers are out of a public setting and able to take off their masks, they can dispose of them safely by taking it off and placing it in a plastic bag, then putting it in the trash. Surgical masks offer protection by filtering out large particles and reducing others’ exposure to COVID-19 patients’ saliva and respiratory secretions. They’re available to the public at www.SimplyMasks.com.
N95 masks are actually respirators, which means they can filter out both large and small particles. They’re more effective than surgical masks at reducing transmission. When working properly, they can block 95% of even very small particles.
Like disposable masks, N95 respirators are meant to be worn once then thrown away. To work properly, these protective devices must be fitted snugly to the face to form a seal around the nose and mouth. In today’s public health environment, they’re reserved primarily for healthcare providers since these masks offer better protection for wearers, but coronavirus patient caregivers can also purchase N95 masks online for personal use.
The CDC recommends wearing cloth masks or faces coverings to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. They are less effective at blocking viral transmission than other types of masks, but since surgical masks and N95s have been in short supply, they can still form a good first line of defense against COVID-19 when other options are not available. According to the CDC recommendations, anyone over the age of two who does not have underlying health conditions that make mask-wearing infeasible should wear a face-covering any time he or she enters a situation where social distancing is difficult.
Face shields are not technically masks, and they don’t make a very good substitute for actual masks. They’re designed primarily as a form of eye protection, and there is no evidence to suggest that face shields provide sufficient protection against respiratory droplets.
There are still a few situations where face shields may be more appropriate. For hearing impaired consumers or those who interact with them, face shields make it easier to read lips. Those who must wear face shields instead of masks should find shields that extend below the chin and wrap around the sides of the face.
The Bottom Line
There’s a reason the CDC recommends that all Americans wear masks in crowded public spaces. They have been shown to reduce coronavirus transmission to wearers and others. Since COVID-19 can be spread by asymptomatic carriers, it’s essential that everyone wear a mask whenever it’s required, not just those who believe they may have come into contact with the novel coronavirus.