Types of Masks
When you hear about protective face masks for COVID-19 prevention, it's generally one of three types:
- Cloth Masks
- Surgical Masks
- N95 Respirators
But what's the difference? Which mask should you use? Keep reading to learn the pros and cons of each type of mask so you can choose the right one for you and your family.
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CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.
CDC also advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure.
Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.
The cloth face coverings recommended are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators. Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance.
Surgical masks are disposable, loose-fitting face masks that cover your nose, mouth, and chin. They’re typically used to:
- protect the wearer from sprays, splashes, and large-particle droplets
- prevent the spread of potentially infectious respiratory secretions from the wearer to others
Surgical masks can vary in design, but the mask itself is often flat and rectangular in shape with pleats or folds. The top of the mask contains a metal strip that can be formed to your nose.
Elastic bands or long, straight ties help hold a surgical mask in place while you’re wearing it. These can either be looped behind your ears or tied behind your head.
An N95 respirator is a more tight-fitting face mask. In addition to splashes, sprays, and large droplets, this respirator can also filter out 95 percentTrusted Source of very small particles. This includes viruses and bacteria.
The respirator itself is generally circular or oval in shape and is designed to form a tight seal to your face. Elastic bands help hold it firmly to your face. Some types may have an attachment called an exhalation valve, which can help with breathing and the buildup of heat and humidity.
N95 respirators aren’t one-size-fits-all. They actually must be fit-tested before use in order to make sure that a proper seal is formed. If the mask doesn’t seal effectively to your face, you won’t receive the appropriate protection.
After being fit-tested, users of N95 respirators must continue to perform a seal check each time they put one on. It’s also important to note that a tight seal can’t be achieved in some groups. These include children and people with facial hair.