What mask to choose

Did you ever think you’d see the day that masks became a wardrobe staple?  Neither did I. Yet, here we are.  When you look at pictures taken almost everywhere, it looks like everybody there is on the run from the law.

You can get a mask in every color and pattern imaginable. They have become the latest in branded accessories – below are images of just a few from Nike, Victoria’s Secret, the New York Yankees, Coach and Louis Vuitton. (The Louis Vuitton mask retails for about $95, by the way).

You probably noticed that these are all cloth masks. They are not the type of mask you see worn by health care professionals.  In case you been trying to figure out – What are the different types of masks? – here is a quick rundown of them:

N95 or Professional-Grade Medical Mask

Also known as N95 Respirators, these masks are considered medical devices. They are made to prevent exposure to tiny droplets that can remain suspended in the air and transmit illness.

Health care workers who wear these type are ideally supposed to  undergo a fit-test to find the right make, model and size to ensure that the mask makes a tight seal around the nose and mouth, forming a barrier between the air outside and the face.  The N95 respirators are almost continually in short supply, so it is recommended day should be reserved for use by health care providers and first responders. Some reports have found that a variety of online sellers of “professional-grade masks” are actually selling ineffective counterfeits. Since N95s are considered an essential but scarce supply for healthcare workers, they are thoughtful item to donate to people in those professions.

Face shields

Face shields are clear sheets of plastic that hang down from some type of headband. The shield covers the face from the top of the head to below the chin. Before the awesome set of the coronavirus pandemic, these were usually worn by health care workers performing procedures that might be prone to splatter of bodily fluids. For example, dental hygienists often wear face shields.

Members of the general public who keep six feet of social distance from others, and wear a face mask, do not need to wear a face shield.

Face shields may be used to provide an extra layer of protection when in sustained close range of others. I have seen images of school teachers wearing them, seated at a table with a student. Be aware, face shields do not provide the same protection as a mask, because they do not provide a barrier to respiratory droplets, which can come up under and behind them.

Procedural and Surgical Masks

These are loose-fitting masks designed to cover the mouth and nose. Surgical masks are disposable covers that are usually worn by medical professionals as personal protective equipment during surgeries or other procedures. They are often made of a combination of paper and plastic and are usually a light blue color.

Although they are not close fitting like the N95 mask, these disposable masks are fluid resistant and they provide some protection against larger respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes. They don’t protect against smaller droplets. They are considered effective for helping protect others around you if you are a carrier of the coronavirus.  These masks are fairly inexpensive and are ideal for one-time usage. They can’t be washed and reused.

Primarily, they prevent the wearer from spreading infectious droplets to others. Like N95 respirators, these masks are used by health care workers whose safety depends on an adequate supply. They cannot be washed.

Cloth Masks

A cloth face mask fits against the face using either ear loops or ties around the back of the head. Multiple layers of fabric create a barrier between your nose and mouth and the outside, helping contain any respiratory droplets that you may breathe out. The thicker the mask, the greater the barrier that is formed.

You can make your own cloth mask at home with or without a sewing machine. If you do so, you can use a wide variety of fabrics. Tightly woven fabrics like cotton are recommended if you make your own masks. These kinds of fabrics can also be useful when wearing a mask in the heat, because they are more comfortable. According to the CDC, these masks may help slow the spread of COVID-19, and help keep people who may unknowingly have the virus from transmitting it to others

Here is a video from United States Surgeon General Jerome Adams, demonstrating how to make a no-sew mask:

If you check on YouTube, there are a lot of videos available showing you how to sew a face mask at home.

Final facts

For the average person who isn’t working with patients in a healthcare setting, a cloth face covering is the best mask for coronavirus protection because:

  • They can easily be made using supplies at home
  • They can easily be purchased.
  • They can be used repeatedly with regular washing between wears.
  • There is no risk of purchasing counterfeit or ineffective masks.
  • They are not a scarce resource needed by health care workers.
  • They can be had in a variety of styles to help their use appear less ominous.

Wearing a mask is a critical part of preventing the spread of coronavirus infection prevention, but the best protection against the virus is still social distancing.


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