The coronavirus continues to surge throughout the United States and there has been an increase in conversations surrounding statewide mask mandates. According to a report conducted by ABC News, 28 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico require masks to be worn. Masks have proven to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus. Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said, “... face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus…”
The increased demand for face masks has led to a shortage, felt worldwide. From purchasing simple 3-ply face masks to DIY cloth coverings, and everything in between, people have been scrambling to get their hands on these commodities. The demand for masks is simply outpacing the supply. With so many types and brands of masks on the market, it can be difficult to determine the best type of mask to purchase as well as identify counterfeit products. So, let's discuss:
- The types of masks available and their effectiveness.
- Purchasing the right mask for you.
Types of Masks & Their Effectiveness
The common types of masks we’ve heard about throughout the coronavirus pandemic are 3-ply masks, cloth masks, and the N95 and KN95 respirators. These masks are commodities that people did not have to differentiate between prior to the pandemic. Here’s a quick overview on each kind of mask and how effective each one is:
The 3-ply masks consist of three protective layers. The outermost layer is designed to be waterproof, the middle layer functions as a filter, while the innermost layer works to absorb any moisture inside the mask. These layers, in tandem, work to prevent large particles and respiratory droplets from entering and exiting the mouth. Research suggests that the 3-ply mask prevents the outward movement of breath by 90 percent.
Cloth masks are intended to trap droplets that are released by the wearer when they talk, cough, or sneeze. These simple masks focus on source control, preventing the wearer from spreading their germs onto others. Cloth masks can be made using household items like an old scarf or T-shirt. These DIY face coverings consist of layers but typically won’t have filters like the ones in the 3-ply masks. A benefit of having a cloth mask is the ability to wash and reuse it.
The N95 is one of the more commonly known in the United States. It creates an airtight seal around the nose and mouth of the wearer and helps to filter up to 95 percent of particles. The mask uses a two- strap attachment, one above the ears and the other over the back of the head. Something to note about the N95 respirator is that it is regulated by the CDC and NIOSH. The FDA will only regulate it if it is manufactured and marketed for medical purposes.
Lastly, we have the KN95 respirator. This mask functions similarly to the N95, filtering up to 95% of particles. The mask uses the ear loop method of wearing, making it more comfortable to wear and easier to remove. This mask can serve as an alternative to wearing an N95 respirator. The major differentiator between the KN95 and the N95 respirators is that KN95’s are typically regulated by the Chinese government. This means the masks are not measured up to the standards of the CDC and NIOSH. However, due to the pandemic the CDC has allowed for their use in both medical and non-medical arenas.