How Effective Is Your Face Mask Against COVID-19?
What makes COVID-19 different from other coronaviruses is that our human immune systems have never been exposed to this strain before. Multiple studies reported by the Advisory Board have also indicated that many patients are asymptomatic, meaning they are infected but will not develop symptoms.
With a near unknown virus spreading everywhere at an alarming rate, scientists worldwide have agreed that maintaining social distancing and wearing a face mask can help minimize the spread of COVID-19. However, not all masks are created equal. Some offer greater protection against viruses, others not so much.
In this blog, we’ll examine the main types of face masks and their level of effectiveness against COVID-19.
4 Main Types of Face Masks
Many types of face masks are commercially available to protect people against different kinds of infections. But with the coronavirus being the only major concern around the world, you want to make sure that you’re wearing is doing more good than harm.
Surgical Face Masks
Surgical face masks are extensively used in healthcare facilities to protect the healthcare providers, frontliners, and patients from the spread of the saliva or cough and sneeze liquid of the wearer. These masks are specifically designed to stop the spread of liquid droplets in the air and protect the wearer from breathing in large air particles containing germs or infectious liquid. These masks are disposable and cover the nose and mouth of the wearer. These masks are most effective against many bacterial and viral infections, such as influenza.
The main caveat with these masks is that they cannot provide protection against very small and fine liquid particles, air particles, and viruses. Thus, these masks cannot be considered much effective in case of COVID-19 infections, as the virus is very small in size and can pass through molecular-sized holes easily. Because of this reason, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved any surgical mask in case of COVID-19 infection.
N95 Face Masks
N95 face masks provide a high level of protection against very fine and small particles like small size pathogens, fumes, gases, and small air and dust particles. These masks are used in very hazardous atmospheric settings, like dealing with chemical agents or hazardous infectious particles.
They have been approved and recommended by the FDA to be used against COVID- 19 infections, as the mask stops the spread of liquid containing viral particles directly in the air and provides filtered air to the wearer during inhale. Despite its effectiveness, it’s the least commonly available option for most people.
KN95 Face Masks
These multi-layered masks are made from thermal bonded non-woven fabric and high-density media. The hypoallergenic materials are soft to the touch and water- and droplet-proof. They have elastic earloops, which ensures a tight and firm fitting to the face, from the nose to the chin. They are also durable and collapsible, so they can be folded in your pocket or bag with lower risk of wear and tear.
So, what’s the difference between a N95 and KN95 face mask? Not much really.
Kn95 face masks are fit-tested on real humans with ≤ 8% leakage, which is helpful for hospitals and companies that require their workers to be fit-tested. They also offer the same 95% particle protection (0.3 micron particles). Whereas the N95 face masks have slightly stricter requirements for pressure drop while inhaling and exhaling.
We have recently added to our inventory the KN95 Face Mask ASTM Level 1. On sale and available in packs of 5 or 10. Orders ship within 24 hours.
Cloth masks are made of any type of tightly woven cloth such as bandannas, cotton, nylon, and polypropylene. They provide protection against the spread of liquid whenever a person coughs, talks or sneezes. Cloth masks can be effective in controlling the spread of COVID-19 in the cases where people are infected and asymptomatic.
Since surgical masks and respirators are not easily available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that people wear non- sewn or cloth masks to combat the virus. But at the same time, CDC has also stated that there are certain conditions in which cloth face masks cannot be effective. They reinforced that children under the age of 2 or people with breathing difficulties should also not wear cloth masks as they can pose more harm than good. People who are working in extreme care units or healthcare facilities are also recommended to not wear cloth masks as doing so will not provide enough protection against small viral particles.
COVID-19 Clusters & Their Relation to Face Masks
A recent study of 1,600 patients in the U.S. and U.K. has found that there are more than just 3 symptoms (fever, cough and loss of smell) to be associated with COVID-19. Many people have shown many other symptoms depending upon their immunity and the severity of the infection. Based on the study, there are a total of 6 clusters, including:
• Cluster 1: Includes flu like symptoms only
• Cluster 2: Includes flu like symptoms as well as fever
• Cluster 3: Includes gastrointestinal issues
• Cluster 4: Termed as Severe Level 1 and involves fatigue
• Cluster 5: Severe Level 2 and involves confusion
• Cluster 6: Severe Level 3 and it involves severe abdominal and respiratory issues
Based on these observations, clusters 1, 2, and 3 are considered as minor or initial infections, which can be treated easily with commonly available medicines or sometimes the patients recover by themselves. They can also be controlled by wearing surgical masks or cloth masks.
Clusters 4, 5, and 6 appear in patients with extreme breathing difficulties. They require proper medical facilities and ventilators for their survival, which is why healthcare providers and family members of such patients are at more risk of developing the infection than other people. In such cases, a cloth mask cannot help prevent the spread or infection of COVID-19.
If surgical masks or higher grade masks are not readily available, people who have minor symptoms or low risk of developing the coronavirus can rely on simple cloth face masks. However, those at higher risk due to health, age, or their work environments should wear a medical grade mask. And everyone should maintain social distancing whenever possible.