Since the outbreak of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) was declared a pandemic early March 2020, people across the globe have rushed to their local pharmacy to buy surgical masks. The novel coronavirus with pathogen name SARS-CoV-2 spreads through the mouth when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that the new coronavirus spreads much faster than other coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS.

Guide To Face Masks To Protect You From COVID-19 – N95 Respirator vs Surgical vs Homemade Masks - Acko

In the wake of COVID-19’s intensity to spread faster, face masks have become one of the best ways to curb the spread of coronavirus among humans. But which is the best mask for coronavirus? This article ventures into the guidelines on face masks to protect you from COVID-19.

Types of Masks To Protect You From COVID-19 (Coronavirus):

The WHO recommends the use of face masks in health care settings and in communities during home care in areas that have reported cases of the novel coronavirus. So, what are the primary types of face masks?

Primarily, there are two types of face masks being talked about here:

  1. Medical-Grade Masks
  2. Non-Medical Face Coverings

1) Medical-Grade Masks:

Medical-grade masks are again divided into N95 respirators and disposable surgical face masks. While the N95 respirator masks filter out small particles, smoke and airborne viruses, disposable surgical masks filter large particles and droplets discharged when someone coughs or sneezes from entering or exiting your mouth.

2) Non-Medical Face Coverings:

Reusable cloth masks, scarves and handkerchiefs, which are used just like the surgical mask, protects you against respiratory droplets and large particles. This type of mask should be washed and cleaned after every use and is generally not used in a medical setting. 

Difference Between Surgical Mask, Homemade Cloth Mask and N95 Respirator:

Are you still confused? A piece of detailed information on these types of face masks will ensure you understand how each of these masks is effective and functions in different environments. For that, here are the differences between the types of face masks:

What Is A Surgical Mask?

Surgical masks are slightly loose-fitting and cover your mouth, nose and chin. They are disposable medical masks which are predominantly used by healthcare professionals.

Advantages of Surgical Masks:

Apart from being cost-effective, surgical masks are largely used in medical settings and are mainly effective in protecting against:

  • Large particle droplets.
  • Sprays or Splashes
  • Spreading COVID-19 to others.

Surgical masks are quite popular among the people and they come in different shapes and sizes. However, they do not protect you against airborne infectious diseases. They are disposable in nature and cannot be reused.

What Is A N95 Respirator Mask? 

The N95 respirator mask is increasingly being used to contain the spread of COVID-19 across the world. The mask is a lot more tight-fitting compared to the disposable surgical masks. They can filter up to 95% of small particles including bacterias and viruses.

Advantages of N95 Respirator Mask:

Apart from acting as a barrier to large droplets, sprays, splashes, the N95 respirator masks has several other advantages:

  • Protects against inhaling dust, smoke, mist.
  • Protects against contamination of viruses such as COVID-19.
  • Can filter particles of up to 0.3 microns or larger.
  • Can be reused after washing.

Also, check: Health Insurance for COVID-19

What Is Homemade Cloth Masks or Face Coverings?

Homemade face masks are meant to protect you just like the surgical masks. These can be made of fabric. While they might protect you to a small degree, they may help contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. Disinfecting and sanitizing of cloth or sponge masks is crucial in containing the spread of viruses. 

Advantages of Homemade Cloth Masks:

Apart from filtering out nearly 50% of viruses and bacterias, homemade face masks have other advantages as well. They are:

  • Reusability.
  • Cost-effective.
  • Handy during urgent times.
  • Act as protection against large droplets, splashes, sprays.

Also, read: Coronavirus Helpline Number, India

Comparison Between Surgical Masks, N95 Respirator And Homemade Face Masks:

Now that you understand the different types of masks, here are the comparisons between all the three types of face masks:

CategorySurgical MasksN95 Respirator MasksHomemade Face Masks
ProtectionLarge particles.
Viral outbreaks.
Droplets of saliva.
Splashes of biological fluids.
Small particles of up to 0.3 microns or more.
Viral Outbreaks.
Barriers against viruses, bacterias and pollutants.
Large particles.
Viral outbreaks.
Droplets of saliva or discharges from coughing or sneezing.
Lesser protection compared to surgical or respirator masks.
CostLower pricedSlightly ExpensiveCost-effective
LifeDisposableReusableReusable
Testing and ApprovalCleared by the US FDA.Approved and tested by NIOSH.Used only during urgent times since it reduces the chances of getting infected.
RecommendedFor healthcare settings and community use.For healthcare settings and community use.For community use only.

So, Which Type of Face Masks Offer Protection Against the Coronavirus?

A person confirmed with the novel coronavirus should wear a surgical mask as soon as it is detected. Caretakers of COVID-19 positive persons are required to wear respirator masks to have maximum protection against the virus. N95 respirator masks provide protection from particles of up to 0.3 microns. As per the recommendation by the Centers For Disease Control and Protection (CDC), homemade cloth masks are an effective way of containing the spread of novel coronavirus even if the person is asymptomatic.

Dos And Don’ts of Face Masks:

It is important to ensure you wear the face mask correctly and effectively. There are several dos and don’ts when it comes to wearing a face mask. Here are some of the most common aspects of wearing masks:

How to Put on a Mask and Take It Out?

Before wearing the mask, ensure you wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The WHO recommends washing time should be at least 20 seconds. Use the ties that secure the mask to your face to secure it or remove it. The mask should cover from the ridge of your nose to down under your chin. Make sure the ties are tight enough to snuggly fit your face. 

Wearing a Face Mask Outdoors:

It has been advised to wear a mask at all times in public areas since you don’t know who might be infected with the virus. Also, it is your social responsibility to wear a mask when you venture out to buy essential goods.

When to Wear a Mask at Home?

Only if you are a person with an illness you should wear a mask inside the home. Also, those taking care of you should wear the mask to avoid infections by the virus. The sick person should be confined to a separate room or area with no contact with others at home.

How To Use a Surgical Mask If You Have Symptoms of COVID-19?

If you appear to have COVID-19 symptoms, you should immediately contact your medical provider to take the next course of actions. It is important that you wear a surgical mask if you are visiting the medical provider for a coronavirus test or if you have others living in your house. While surgical masks do not protect against contracting the virus, they can stop the spread of the disease. Follow the steps below to know how to use a surgical mask:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly or clean them using a disinfectant such as alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  2. Check the mask for any possible wear and tear.
  3. Wear the mask so that the coloured side faces outward.
  4. Ensure the top part of the mask is on the ridge of your nose, adjusting the metal strip according to the shape of your nose.
  5. Loop the ties or strings to the back of your ears or tie the strings to the back of your head.
  6. Pull the mask below your chin.
  7. Ensure it covers your nose, mouth and chin.
  8. Do not touch a new  mask without cleaning or disinfecting your hands.
  9. To remove it, untie or unloop the strings of the mask and avoid touching the front of the mask as it may be contaminated.
  10.  Make sure you dispose of the mask and clean your hands with soap and water or a disinfectant.

Also, read: Ways To Remain Healthy During Social Distancing

The Bottom Line:

Wearing homemade face masks is recommended in public settings where it might be difficult to maintain Social Distancing. By wearing masks correctly along with other COVID-19 prevention methods, all the types of masks can contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. However, surgical and N95 respirator masks should be reserved for healthcare professionals or those who are sick and need to visit a hospital. Others should wear clean and disinfected homemade face masks such as handkerchiefs or self-designed face coverings.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Here some of the FAQs about face masks in protection against COVID-19:

When to use a face mask?

You are required to wear a mask only if you are taking care of a sick person or a person who is suspected of coronavirus infection. Also, it should be used while travelling outside to buy your essential goods as this might help contain the spread of germs. However, when masks are used in combination with the practice of hygiene such as frequent washing your hands with soap and water or disinfecting with alcohol-based hand sanitizers will help in containing the virus infection.

Can wearing of face masks protect against contracting coronavirus?

The novel coronavirus or COVID-19 spreads from person to person through the discharge of droplets from the mouth or nose while coughing or sneezing. If you inhale these droplets, you can catch the virus infection. Also, if you touch objects or surfaces where these droplets might have fallen, and you touch your mouth, nose or eyes, can lead you to contract the virus. Among the face masks that have been discussed in this article, N95 respirator masks are better than the surgical or the homemade face masks.

Should I wear a mask if I am taking care of a person who may have COVID-19?

Yes. You should wear a respirator mask to protect yourself from contracting the disease. However, you need to also practise other hygiene practices to contain the infection.

Can I share a reusable face mask with another person?

Face masks, be it surgical, respiratory or homemade, should not be shared by other persons. Each member should have their own face masks.

Can homemade masks be used by healthcare workers?

Homemade face masks are not recommended to be used by medical care professionals or workers or persons in contact with COVID-19 persons or COVID-19 positive themselves as they are required to wear only specified protective face masks.

References:

  • Advice on the use of masks in the context of COVID-19, World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/publications-detail/advice-on-the-use-of-masks-in-the-community-during-home-care-and-in-healthcare-settings-in-the-context-of-the-novel-coronavirus-(2019-ncov)-outbreak.
  • Recommendation Regarding the Use of Cloth Face Coverings, Especially in Areas of Significant Community-Based Transmission, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cloth-face-cover.html

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