Wearing a mask is helpful in limiting the spread of COVID-19 if you’re not fully vaccinated against the disease.
And, even if you’ve already had the coronavirus, you should still wear a mask and physical distance to prevent spreading the flu, says Sanford Health chief physician Jeremy Cauwels, M.D.
Odds are, you’ve seen all the different kinds of masks, and you probably have them yourselves.
So, which one is most effective in limiting the spread of coronavirus?
Dr. Lopez says it’s the N-95.
“N-95 is the Cadillac of the mask. What it does is it filters 95% of the particles,” he said.
He says you might see this type of mask when you’re out and about, but for the most part, it’s saved for health care workers.
“We like to reserve this for our health care providers, because they’re exposed to a lot of patients. They’re really efficient.”
But, the next-best is a surgical mask, and he says you can find that anywhere.
“The filtration system, depending on the study you read, goes from 85-92%. So, almost as efficient as the Cadillac (N-95),” says Dr. Lopez.
Best of the rest
Dr. Lopez says the more layers of protection is what makes for an effective mask. The N-95 and surgical masks can have upwards of three layers, making them the best.
However, he says a cloth mask isn’t a bad option either, as they typically have two to three layers of protection.
Another benefit of cloth masks is that many come with ear straps, helping you to keep the mask snug on your face. And, making sure to cover your entire face is crucial, he says.
“It doesn’t drop down from your nose, which sometimes happens. The most important thing to remember with masks is to cover your nose and cover your mouth,” he said.
Next is a bandanna. Dr. Lopez says bandannas do have the potential to be effective, but the biggest problem is the number of layers.
“What happens is that individuals only use one layer of the bandanna, instead of trying to fold them as much as they can to get two or three layers.”
Multiple folds is also what helps to raise the effectiveness of another mask, the gaiter.
What masks to avoid
Dr. Lopez says never to use a valve mask.
The reason, he says, is the valve allows particles to be released outside of the mask.
“Those particles can be infectious to us. So, we actually do not recommend any type of mask that has an exhale valve.”
Why masks are important
Because the world best scientists are still learning about the novel coronavirus, there aren’t many tools we have in fighting the spread, says Dr. Lopez.
“There’s really few tools in our toolbox to decrease the spread of COVID-19. One is physical distancing. So, when you can, be 6 feet away from the next person, if possible. Try to avoid crowded places, particularly indoor gatherings, but also outdoor gatherings that are really crowded. Also, it’s important to practice proper hand washing.”
Masks help keep infectious droplets from spreading the virus that’s claimed millions of lives worldwide.
Besides COVID-19 vaccines, “wearing a mask is one of the most important health tools that we have in fighting the spread of the virus.”
This story was originally published Nov. 20, 2020. It was updated June 10, 2021, with new CDC guidelines on wearing masks.
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