Are Masks Safe?

Face masks are a simple way to help decrease coronavirus transmission and save lives. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wearing a face mask in public places has been shown to reduce the spread of COVID-19, because those who are pre-symptomatic can spread the virus before showing symptoms. However, some masks are more effective than others.

How do the different types of masks work?

Medical masks

Also called surgical masks, these are loose-fitting disposable masks. They’re meant to protect the wearer from contact with droplets and sprays that may contain germs. A medical mask also filters out large particles in the air when the wearer breathes in.

To make medical masks more form-fitting, knot the ear loops where they attach to the mask. Then fold and tuck the unneeded material under the edges.

N95 masks

An N95 mask is a type of respirator. It offers more protection than a medical mask does because it filters out both large and small particles when the wearer inhales.

Because N95 masks have been in short supply, the CDC has said they should be reserved for health care providers. Health care providers must be trained and pass a fit test before using an N95 mask. Like surgical masks, N95 masks are intended to be disposable. However, researchers are testing ways to disinfect and reuse them.

Some N95 masks, and even some cloth masks, have valves that make them easier to breathe through. Unfortunately, these masks don’t filter the air the wearer breathes out. For this reason, they’ve been banned in some places.

Cloth masks

A cloth mask is intended to trap respiratory droplets that are released when the wearer talks, coughs, or sneezes. It also acts as a barrier to protect the wearer from inhaling droplets released by others.

The most effective cloths masks are made of multiple layers of tightly-woven fabric like cotton. A mask with layers will stop more droplets from getting through your mask or escaping from it.

Face masks with valves:

These masks may make it easier to breathe out, but as the wearer is doing so, they’re also exhaling their germs into the air around them. Increasingly more medical facilities around the country have banned the use of masks with valves. They do a good job protecting the wearer, but because of the one-way valves, they don’t offer much protection to the people around the wearer. If the wearer is contagious, either knowingly or unknowingly, they could still be spreading the virus to others around them. Since the main reason to wear a mask is to protect others, a simpler mask with a filter may be a better choice.

How to get the cost from your mask

The effectiveness of cloth and medical masks can be improved by ensuring that the masks are well fitted to the contours of your face to prevent leakage of air around the masks’ edges.

Masks should be snug over the nose, mouth, and chin, with no gaps. You should feel warm air coming through the front of the mask when you breathe out. You shouldn’t feel air coming out under the edges of the mask.

Masks that have a bendable nose strip help prevent air from leaking out of the top of the mask.

Some people choose to wear a disposable mask under their cloth mask. In that case, the cloth mask should press the edges of the disposable mask against the face. Don’t add layers if they make it hard to breathe or obstruct your vision.

Proper use, storage, and cleaning of masks also affect how well they protect you. Follow these steps for putting on and taking off your mask:

  • Wash or sanitize your hands before and after putting on your mask.
  • Place your mask over your mouth and nose and chin.
  • Tie it behind your head or use ear loops. Make sure it’s snug.
  • Don’t touch your mask while wearing it.
  • If you accidentally touch your mask, wash or sanitize your hands.
  • If your mask becomes wet or dirty, switch to a clean one. Put the used mask in a sealable bag until you can get rid of it or wash it.
  • Remove the mask by untying it or lifting off the ear loops without touching the front of the mask or your face.
  • Wash your hands immediately after removing your mask.
  • Regularly washcloth masks in the washing machine or by hand. (They can be washed along with another laundry.)

And don’t forget these precautions:

  • Don’t put masks on anyone who has trouble breathing or is unconscious or otherwise unable to remove the mask without help.
  • Don’t put masks on children under 2 years of age.
  • Don’t use face masks as a substitute for physical distancing.

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