The deadly coronavirus is nothing less than a global earthquake that has shaken the entire mankind like never before. No one knows when the world will overcome the effects of the seismic wave of this pandemic. To date, it has caused numerous infections and illnesses, and unfortunate deaths worldwide, and the number continues to grow. On a personal level, we all are taking necessary precautionary measures to protect ourselves from the virus and striving to flatten the curve. From washing and sanitizing our hands to self-quarantine and social distancing, these methods have helped to reduce the increasing number of COVID-19 cases to some extent. However, one of the controversial safety measures that people are more concerned about is the ‘Face Mask’. The diverse range of designs, material, and views of face masks has only led to more confusion and skepticism. Many people are still wondering “Should I wear a face mask?” or “Which face mask is the best for COVID-19 protection?”.
To help you come out of this dilemma, we have collected some important facts that will help you select a perfect face mask according to your needs.
Best Face Masks for COVID-19 Protection
Not all face masks are produced with a “one size fits all” approach. Different face masks come with different levels of protection against the infection. However, the selection of an effective face mask depends on the filtration level and the fit.
The filtration level is the percentage of droplets and microscopic particles prevented from passing through the face mask. The higher the filtration level, the lesser will be the permeation level of these virus-causing contaminants, thus preventing the spread of the virus. Wearing a perfectly fitted face mask covers your nose and mouth from all ends and prevents harmful particles from seeping out of or into the mask. However, the effectiveness of a face mask can be ensured only if it is used with proper safety measures like hand-washing and sanitizing, social distancing, and avoiding touching face, eyes, or nose frequently. Face masks are broadly categorized as medical-grade masks and cloth masks. Scroll down to learn how you can select the best face mask for COVID-19 protection.
Fit and seal-tested respirators must meet the rigorous filtration standards set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). These types of respirators are made of tangled fibers that prevent pathogens in the air from permeating out of or into the mask. The estimated diameter of coronavirus is 125 nanometers. Considering this diameter, you may be relieved to know that
- A certified, premium-quality N95 respirator can prevent 95% of virus-causing particles having a diameter ranging from 100-300 nm, from seeping out of or into the mask.
- N99 respirators can filter up to 99% of these permeable particles, and
- N100 respirators have the ability to prevent 99.7% of these harmful particles from passing through the mask.
Some of these respirators come with valves that provide a vent for the exhaled air to escape. This feature makes it easier to breathe and prevents suffocation. However, respirators with valves can pose danger to the other people as the exhaled air may contain virus-causing particles and pathogens which might infect a healthy person.
Respirators that need to be used by the healthcare workers and other workers should be tested at least once a year to check for any leakage or defect using specific test particles. This makes sure that virus-causing particles and pathogens aren’t leaked through the respirators.
You may come across various surgical masks available in the market or online stores. These disposable masks generally come in rectangular shapes with 3 pleats that open up to cover your nose, mouth, and jawline. Surgical masks are made of breathable synthetic fabric. Unlike respirators, it’s not mandatory for these single-use masks to meet the filtration standards set by the NIOSH and form an airtight seal against your face area that is covered by the mask. A high-quality surgical mask has the capacity to filter 10 to 90% of the pathogens and harmful particles.
Despite the different fits, designs, and filtration capacity, it has been found that both surgical masks and N95 respirators have significantly helped in reducing the risk of various respiratory diseases and other respiratory issues.
Furthermore, strict adherence to the quality and filtration NIOSH standards, proper and consistent use of medical-grade masks and respirators by people and frontline warriors has been considered more effective in abating the spread of the virus.
DIY Cloth Masks
In comparison to the medical-grade masks and respirators, DIY cloth masks are less effective at protecting the users because they have more open spaces near the nose, cheeks, and jawline which make it easier for the particles and droplets to seep out of or into the mask. Also, cloth masks are porous and permeable in nature which can’t prevent the tiny droplets from entering the mask.
Although cloth masks are less effective than medical-grade masks and respirators, wearing these masks is at least better than not wearing a mask at all when moving in public.
Which material is best for home-made or DIY face masks?
As recommended by the CDC, making home-made masks using a double layer of tightly-woven pure cotton fabric such as quilter’s material or bedsheets with the highest thread count can work great if folded in multiple layers.
Using a thicker, 100% cotton mask works best for keeping out tiny droplets or particles. Avoid using a vacuum cleaner bag or other materials that are too thick and non-breathable as this can make it difficult for you to breathe, which in turn, can cause pressure on your heart or lungs. Using DIY cloth face masks with built-in filters or other alternative filters such as coffee filters, and paper towels is the best way to improve the effectiveness of your home-made masks.
Stay Ahead with a Few More Face Mask Safety Tips
- Practice appropriate hand hygiene every time you wear, remove, or touch your face mask.
- Put on or remove your mask by holding it by the ear ties. Avoid taking off by touching the front of the mask.
- Make sure your face mask covers your nose, mouth, and jawline perfectly with no open spaces. Check if the straps fit snugly over your ears or behind your head.
- Sanitize your mask before and after every use and avoid touching it while wearing.
- If you’re using cloth masks, wash your masks with detergent and dry it completely after each use. Keep the face mask in a paper bag and store it in a warm and dry place for about 2 days or more prior to its next use.
- If you’re using reusable medical-grade masks or respirators, you must isolate the mask in a paper bag for at least a week. This can make the virus inactive and no longer contagious.
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Q.1. What type of face mask is effective in preventing COVID-19 transmission?
Fabric masks are ideal for preventing COVID-19 transmission in public areas, especially where social distancing is not possible and in areas exposed to community transmission. You should consider following the national or local guidelines for wearing face masks or face coverings in public settings. Also, you must discard the mask properly to prevent transmission.
Q.2. Who should wear a medical mask during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Wearing a medical mask is recommended for healthcare workers, anyone who is ill, anyone who is awaiting COVID-19 test result or infected with COVID-19, people providing care and treatment to COVID+ patients, people aged above 60 years, and also anyone with underlying health conditions.
Q.3. What are the types of material used for making masks that protect against COVID-19?
According to WHO, fabric face masks should be made of three layers of fabric:
• The internal layer should be made of absorbent material, like cotton
• The middle layer should be of non-woven and non-absorbent material, like polypropylene
• The external layer should be again a non-absorbent material, like polyester or polyester blend.
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