The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people wear masks in any public space or when coming in contact with people not in their household. Masks are intended to provide a simple barrier to prevent airborne respiratory droplets to travel onto another person. Masks are most effective as a “source control” because they can prevent larger expelled droplets from evaporating into smaller droplets that can travel farther. This means they provide the most benefit from preventing people who have COVID-19 from spreading it to those who don’t. Many people may be asymptomatic, so they may not know they have the virus, and wearing a mask would help protect the more vulnerable populations. There are different face mask options for the general public and medical personnel and all have their pros and cons. Below are the most common face masks to use during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fabric masks can consist of cotton, nylon, paper, silk, other synthetic materials, or a hybrid material. A thick 100% cotton weave is the most recommended fabric for face masks because the tighter weaves prevent particles from getting through more than the other materials. Layering fabrics, especially fabrics of different materials, is highly recommended because the particles have more fabric to get through. The shape of these masks is very important as well. If there are gaps or it is too loose, there is a greater risk that airborne particles can leak through. The ideal shape of the mask will create a tight seal around your nose and mouth, without cutting your circulation off. It is also imperative you wash the mask after every use to wash any germs off before wearing it again.
- washable and reusable
- easy to make on your own
- keeps others safe by preventing exhalation of viral particles
- less filtration
- less airborne particle protection
- lack of quality assurance especially with homemade masks
3-Ply Disposable Mask
The 3-ply mask is a surgical mask made up of three layers of non-woven material. It has a flat rectangular surface with two elastic loops at either end that fit over the ears to hold it in place. When worn, the mask leaves gaps on the sides not ensuring complete protection. This mask should not be rewashed because it is designed for short term use and collects moisture after a few hours.
- readily available
- protects well against large particles and dust
- easy to manufacture
- not reusable
- leave gaps on the side so it doesn’t seal properly
- does not protect against smaller pathogens
The Kn95 is a respirator mask that has a cup-like shape that covers the nose, mouth, and chin and is the Chinese standard for respirator masks. This is very similar to the N95 mask which is the American standard for respiratory masks. Both of these masks are designed to capture 95% of particles, dust, viruses, and other harmful pathogens. The main difference is Kn95 masks are required to pass fit tests, while N95 masks have slightly stronger breathability standards. The Kn95 has four layers with the innermost being removable and replaceable.
- offer more protection because of more layering
- more durable
- cleared for medical doctors and surgeons to use (medical-grade certified)
- not easy to manufacture
- harder to breathe
- should be reserved for healthcare providers
A face shield is a piece of rigid, clear plastic attached to a headband. It does not act as a covering on the face but rather a barrier that hangs straight down. They are more effective in an outdoor setting when you are not going to be in close contact with anyone. The CDC does not recommend face shields to be used as a substitute for traditional face masks.
- easier to breathe
- easy to manufacture (disposable ones)
- creates a barrier for the entire face (eyes)
- not good for close contact
- not effective without face masks
- doesn’t wrap around so particles can easily access the sides