The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with state and local officials are recommending that people wear face masks to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Here’s a look at some of the different types of face masks.
These masks fit tightly to the face and can filter out at least 95 percent of particles 0.3 microns or larger, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The edges of a N95 respirator are designed to form a seal around the nose and mouth and some masks have a metal nose piece that a wearer can mold to their face. When properly fitted, the filtration capabilities of N95 respirators exceed those of other types of masks. Children and those with facial hair won’t achieve a proper fit.
Some N95 respirators have exhalation valves on the front, which make it easier to breathe and reduce heat-build up. N95 respirators with exhalation valve should not be used when sterile conditions are necessary. N95 respirators should not be shared or reused, according to the FDA.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend that the general public wear N95 respirators to protect themselves from coronavirus. Current CDC guidance states that N95-respirators are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for health care workers and other medical first responders.
Surgical masks, often referred to a face masks, come in a few varieties and are less effective than N95 respirators in part due to their looser fit. These masks are fluid resistant and designed to provide the wearer protection against “large droplets, splashes, or sprays of bodily or other hazardous fluids,” according to the FDA. They also help reduce the exposure of the wearer’s coughs and sneezes to others.
These flat face masks have ear loops and a rectangular covering that often has pleats to help it expand and fit around a user’s nose and mouth. Surgical masks come in different thicknesses and with varying ability to protect wearers from contact with liquids.
Because surgical masks fit loosely they don't provide an absolute barrier or complete protection against small particles in the air that may be released by coughs or sneezes.
These masks are also considered critical supplies and should be reserved for medical workers, according to current CDC guidance.
Surgical masks are disposable and should be discarded after use. They are not intended to be used more than once.
Homemade Fabric Masks
The CDC recommends people cover their faces with a scarf or homemade fabric mask when out in public to ensure people who may have the virus and do not know it don’t transmit it to others.
Many are now fashioning their own masks or buying homemade masks. A good homemade face masks should have multiple layers of fabric and fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face, according to the CDC. Common materials like cotton fabric, T-shirt material or a bandanas can be used to make a mask.
These homemade masks should be routinely washed with use.
Those who don homemade masks should take care not to touch their eyes, nose or mouth when removing a used cloth face mask and should wash their hands immediately after removal, according to the CDC.