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Along with other protective measures, such as social or physical distancing and proper hand hygiene, face masks are an easy, inexpensive, and potentially effective way to stay safe and help flatten the spread of COVID-19.

Wearing masks is recommended as a simple barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people when the person wearing the mask coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice. This is called source control. This recommendation is based on what we know about the role respiratory droplets play in the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, paired with emerging evidence from clinical and laboratory studies that shows masks reduce the spray of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth.

So, which type of face mask works best for avoiding transmission of coronavirus when you are out in public?  Essentially there are 2 main types of face masks – The Respirator Mask and the Surgical Mask which offer the most protection but are also heavily in demand.

Respirator Masks

Respirator masks are designed to achieve a very close facial fit and very efficient filtration of airborne particles.

These masks contain a respirator that prevents much smaller particles from passing through to a person’s respiratory system, and must meet the rigorous filtration standards set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

The N95 is the most recognizable and effective mask. Its name means it can block at least 95 percent of tiny particles that are the hardest to capture. These masks are made with polyester and other synthetic fibres, including layers of tangled fibres that act as a filter to make it harder for particles to pass through.

N95 masks are generally reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders. They’re also incompatible with children or people with facial hair. Healthcare providers are fit tested for these masks, and are intended to be single-use only, though researchers are examining effective ways to clean these masks.

 

Surgical Masks

Surgical masks, also known as medical masks, come in a few varieties, are loose-fitting and disposable. These single-use masks are cut into a rectangle shape with pleats that expand to cover your nose, mouth, and jawline, protecting you from sprays or splashes that could enter the nose or mouth.

Often made out of layers of breathable, paper-like synthetic fabric, some filter as much as 60 to 80 percent of small particles under lab conditions. When worn properly, they can help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. While they can protect you from large droplets and splatter, their looser fit is partly what makes them less effective than N95s.

Despite differences in fit and filtration capacity, a randomized trial found that surgical face masks and N95 respirators reduced participant risk of various respiratory illnesses in similar ways.

 

Cloth Masks

Cloth masks or (DIY) masks are less effective at protecting the wearer as most have gaps near the nose, cheeks, and jaw where tiny droplets can be inhaled. Also, the fabric is often porous and can’t keep out tiny droplets.

With medical masks in short supply, many have turned to making or buying homemade ones. Although cloth masks tend to be less effective than their medical-grade counterparts, experimental results suggest they are far better than no mask at all when worn and constructed properly.

In addition to physical distancing and using proper hand hygiene, many health experts consider the use of face masks to be a key measure in helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

A mask is effective only if worn properly, fitting snugly from the top of the nose to below the chin with no gaps. Masks should be worn the entire time you are outside and should not be moved up and down. While no mask is 100 percent effective, it can help keep both you and others safe when combined with social distancing and regular hand washing.

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