With COVID-19 being part of our daily lives let’s try and understand why wearing a protective face mask can help us prevent getting the virus from others and protect the community at large. Also what type of mask is suitable for adults to wear and do children also need to wear one?
Why are people wearing masks right now? The purpose of people wearing masks in public right now is to protect the community. Since so many people who have COVID-19 don’t have symptoms, wearing masks can help reduce the possibility that someone with no symptoms could transmit the disease to others.
Why does wearing a mask help? Face masks reduce the spray of that person’s infectious respiratory droplets so masks can help reduce this kind of spread of the virus. Masks also can protect you from others who may have coronavirus but have no symptoms showing and who could come within 6 feet of you which is the range of transmitting infection through acts like sneezing or coughing.
Is there a right way to wear and use a mask? For a mask to be safest and most protective for children and adults they should securely cover the nose and mouth area. Masks should not be worn when eating and should not be touched when on. Hand washing should take place before and after you remove a mask. Also masks should be washed after each wearing. Remove the mask from behind without touching the front of the mask.
Should children wear masks? It is not recommended for children under age 2 to wear a mask. Some opinions hold that children under age 6 for various reasons should not wear a mask. Also if children can be kept at least 6 feet away from others and not be in contact with surfaces that could harbor the virus then they do not need a mask for the protection of themselves or others. Additionally, a child should not wear a mask if it causes touching their face more frequently hence increasing the child to an increased risk of getting exposed to the virus.
So what kind of mask is best to wear? There are 3 types of protective face masks available in the market at present:
3-ply mask: This is a mask made of 3 layers with the innermost layer used for absorbing moisture, the middle layer is a filter and the outermost layer repels water. You should always wear the 3-ply mask with the pleated side facing out. The pleated material allows you to expand the mask so that it covers the area from the nose to the chin. The better-manufactured ones have a pliable nose piece for proper fit across nose & cheekbones. The 3-ply mask is the most popular and least expensive protective face mask for mass-market use.
KN95 mask: This mask model is similar to the well-known N95 mask. With such similar-sounding names, it can be confusing to understand the difference between N95 and KN95 masks. What are KN95 masks, and are they the same as N95 masks? In short, they are both multi-layered protective masks (usually 4-layers) and N95 masks are the US standards for respirator masks and the KN95 masks are the Chinese standards for masks. In reality, the two masks are equivalent or nearly equivalent on the features that most people care about. Even according to mask manufacturer 3M, “it is reasonable to consider” China’s KN95s “equivalent” to US N95s. Mask standards for Europe (FFP2), Australia (P2), Korea (KMOEL), and Japan (DS) are also highly similar. A good comparison is in what percentage of particles the masks capture. On this parameter, N95 and KN95 respirator masks are the same. Both masks are rated to capture 95% of tiny particles (0.3 micron particles, to be exact). If you want a sturdier mask at a reasonable cost the KN95 is a good option.
N95 mask. This is the “professional” mask and the most expensive. The N95 mask reduces exposure to airborne elements, has a higher filtering efficiency and is made to have a better fit than conventional face masks. The N95 typically come in a contour cup design, has an adjustable nose piece and has at least two elastic straps that go around the head, one above the ears and one below. Due to very limited supply now in the market professional grade masks like N95 masks should be reserved for medical professionals on the front lines who have increased risk of exposure to coronavirus in close proximity.
Alternatively you can order one of these clever face masks or make your own protective mask using cotton fabric and elastic bands ensuring that the fabric is securely covering the nose and mouth area.
Whatever mask you decide to buy and wear just keep safe and healthy out there.
Sources: the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC])