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Which Mask is Best for Me?

September 25, 2020

Take a walk on the street, visit the grocery store, or spend time outside with others – everyone seems to be wearing a different form of face covering. In a climate where face masks have become a matter of life or death, choosing the right style can feel overwhelming.
The comprehensive list below uses information and guidance from the CDC, the FDA, and WHO to help you find the perfect face mask.

First, the facts… A new study conducted by Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Children’s Hospital, found that when wearing a face covering, the risk of infection to the wearer decreases by 65 percent. The coronavirus transmits through respiratory droplets that fall to the earth quickly. Combine a mask that protects against these droplets with social distancing protocols for the most safety.

No Mask: This is the perfect option for alone time at home. Otherwise, not wearing a mask puts you and those in the surrounding area at risk to COVID-19 exposure.

Gaiter: The effectiveness of the gaiter in COVID-19 prevention has been heavily debated. But a Virginia Tech study has proven that if doubled over, a gaiter is just as effective as a mask made of similar or cloth material. However, because of design, the gaiter is more difficult to remove safely. Pulling one down off the face requires touching the fabric, which could be contaminated.

Cloth Mask: For the general public, a cloth mask will do the trick. Single-layer masks only provide 1% particle filtration, while two-layers of cotton filter out about 35% of small particles. Johns Hopkins Medicine suggests looking for a mask constructed from tight-weave 100% cotton cloth. A reusable cloth mask also creates less waste, helping the fight against ocean pollution.

Surgical Mask: A surgical mask works like a two-way street. When worn correctly, this mask blocks large particles that may contain viruses and bacteria from reaching the nose and mouth. Surgical masks can also help to reduce the exposure of your saliva and respiratory secretions to others. However, these masks are designed for single use, making them a more expensive but safe option for the general public.

N95: N95 Masks are considered critical supplies reserved for healthcare workers and medical first responders and not necessary for the public as per the CDC. The fit is designed to seal around the nose and mouth for effective filtration of 95 percent of airborne particles. If not airtight, the wearer is at a much higher risk of infection.

Face Shield: The effectiveness of the face shield worn alone to protect against the coronavirus is currently unknown. There is not enough evidence to support the capability of face shields for COVID control. Therefore, the CDC does not currently recommend the use of face shields as a substitute for masks. However, when combined with a mask over the nose and mouth, the face shield can protect the eyes from infection.

Mask with Valves: These are designed for use in construction work, not disease prevention. One-way valves and vents allow air to be exhaled through the hole in the material, which can result in the spread of respiratory droplets to others. The CDC does not recommend this mask because it does not prevent the wearer from transmitting COVID-19 to others.

No matter the face mask, it is important to be sure it fits correctly, and you are wearing it responsibly. A Wake Forest Baptist Health study found that an exposed nose or mouth and any gaps at the edges can decrease filtration efficiency by 60 percent. Do your part to reduce the spread and flatten the curve of coronavirus cases in your local area and around the country. A mask is the first step to protection.


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