There is a lot of evidence that wearing a mask can help prevent others from contracting the virus, SARS-CoV-2. However, there is not much guidance from the public health authorities on which type masks offer the greatest protection.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization advised the public to not to wear N95 Mask respirators. This mask is made of high-tech synthetic fibers and protects against viruses-laden particles called aerosols. This was due to a lack of these masks at the time, and health care workers urgently needed them. Both agencies also stated that there was no risk of SARS-CoV-2 being transmitted by airborne particles and aerosols. The agencies recommended that you use cloth masks and other homemade masks to stop virus-carrying droplets. This was even after it became apparent that SARS-CoV-2 is often spread through airborne particles.
N95 Masks are at Utmost priority
High-filtration respirator-style masks are now available in a variety of styles, including the N95s, KN95s from China, and KF94s from South Korea. These masks have been readily available for many months, are relatively inexpensive, and offer better protection than surgical or cloth masks. The CDC updated their guidance on September 10, to state that the general public can now wear N95 mask or other medical-grade masks, provided they are insufficient stock.
However, “CDC continues to recommend N95 respirators should remain a priority for protection against COVID-19 within healthcare settings. They said that N95 respirators should be worn by essential workers and workers who used respirators in the past before the pandemic. “As N95s become easier to find, they can be worn in by non-healthcare settings. However, cloth masks are acceptable and recommended for masking.”
The experts say that a year ago, we could have said that we were worried about health care worker shortages. So, we told people to make their cloth masks. Any mask is better than none. She says that scientists now know that high-performance masks are needed for indoor risky situations. This is especially true with the highly transmissible Delta virus spreading, and students spending more time indoors.
What makes a good mask?
The most important parameters for mask effectiveness are fit, comfort, and filtration. The percentage of particles that the mask material blocks is called filtration. An N95 filter, for example, filters at least 95% of the airborne particles. However, air can still get in through the gaps. The mask should be snugly fitted against the face, over the chin, and without any gaps around the mouth or nose. Comfort is another important metric. A mask doesn’t work if it is uncomfortable to wear.
There are many national standards that govern the quality of respirators. The CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has certified N95s as the U.S. standard. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration sets standards for how people should be fitted in work environments (such as hospitals). There is no standard for N95 usage by the general population. FFP2 respirator is the European equivalent to the N95. It filters at least 94% of particles. China has the KN95 and South Korea has the KF94. They all provide excellent filtration. It really boils down to which one is best for you and your lifestyle.