What protection do masks offer against COVID-19?


Wearing a face mask combined with other preventive measures like washing hands frequently and obeying social distancing does protect against the spreading of this virus. In the initial days of the pandemic face masks were not much recommended because it was not known up to what extent the people in which the symptoms didn’t appear yet or the people having no symptoms at all could spread the virus. So, by the time the World Health Organization and the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highly recommend the use of face masks in lowering the spread of the virus. The CDC recommends surgical or N95 masks for health professionals and cloth masks for public.


N95 mask

The N95 mask is considered to provide maximum protection against COVID-19 due to its ability to filter out both large and small particles when a person inhale. As the name shows it can block 95% of the small particles. So, it’s the best protection for health workers who are at the frontline in dealing with this pandemic. Some of these masks have valves that make it easier to breathe and the unfiltered air is released when the person exhales. The health workers need to be trained to assure a proper seal before using N95 mask. Although, like other surgical masks it is supposed to be disposable but researchers are working on how to disinfect it and reuse it based on its limited supply and higher price. Some N95 masks have one-way valves that make them easier to breathe through but the unfiltered air is released back when the person exhales so for this reason some places have banned the use of it.

Surgical masks

Surgical mask also known as a medical mask is a lose fitted mask that protects the mouth and nose from entering any droplets or sprays that may contain germs. The colored side (usually blue or green) of the mask is to be worn outwards while the whiter side inwards. Surgical masks vary in quality and the level of protection they offer against COVID but they don’t offer as much of protection as the N95 because it gives a sealed protection against the germs. By design, they offer a limited protection as they don’t have the ability to filter out or block very small particles that may be transmitted through sneezing or coughing. But still they are a better protection when N95 is not available.

Cloth masks

A cloth mask also offers protection against COVID by trapping the droplets released when the wearer sneezes or coughs. They can be very helpful when wore widely by the public at places where social distancing is not possible. The N95 and surgical masks may not be widely available at times when the pandemic is at peak and they should be reserved for the frontline volunteers primarily so people may switch to simple cloth masks that may be easily available or could be made at home. Another advantage of cloth masks is that they can be washed and reused. Online instructions can be followed on how to make them at home.

How to wear a cloth face mask

According to the CDC recommendations, a cloth face mask can be worn at places where social distancing is not being followed. The following steps can be followed when putting on or taking off the cloth mask.

  • Wash or sanitize your hands before and after wearing the mask.
  • Don’t touch the mask with hands while wearing it and if it happens accidently wash or sanitize your hands.
  • If the mask gets wet or dirty, wear a new one and put the dirty one in a sealed bag until you wash it.
  • Remove the mask without touching the front side of the mask or mouth.
  • Tie the mask using the ear loops and make sure it’s comfortable.
  • Wash your hands immediately after removing it.
  • Wash the mask regularly with soap and water or launder it with other clothes in the washing machine.
  • Don’t use a cloth mask for children under 2 years of age.
  • People who have any breathing trouble or who cannot remove the mask without help should not be made to wear it.
  • If you wear glasses then it could be troublesome to wear a mask. But pull up your mask higher on your nose and seal it with the help of your glasses. Place your glasses right on top of the material that is on your nose and make sure they don’t slide off each other. A good seal will not let the warm air escape through the top of the mask when you exhale.

Tips for wearing a cloth face mask

Wear the mask initially for shorter period of time at home and then gradually increase the time when you get comfortable wearing it for longer.

If your mask doesn’t fit you or its not comfortable to wear or its difficult breathing through it, look for other options such as changing the style and size of the mask. Various styles are available online for home made cloth face masks.

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