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  • Writer's pictureMacalister Bali

So many face masks!

As the number of novel coronavirus cases continues to rise nationwide, the recurring message from many public health experts and doctors has been simple: Wearing masks saves lives. However, some masks are more effective than others.

Surgical masks:

Surgical masks also called medical masks are loose-fitting and disposable. They protect the nose and mouth from coming into contact with droplets that could carry germs. They’re made to protect you from sprays or splashes that could enter the nose or mouth. These masks are also able to filter out large particles in the air, and can make sure droplets from the wearer aren’t being spread. These masks are single-use only.

Fabric/cloth masks:

Fabric or cloth masks trap droplets that are released when the person wearing the mask sneezes, coughs or talks. They reduce the spread of viruses, are easy to purchase or make, and can be washed and worn again. It’s also important for the wearer to avoid touching their masks, and if they do, to sanitize or wash their hands after. Additionally, if a cloth or fabric mask becomes wet or dirty, it’s important to switch to a clean one. These masks should not be shared.

N95 masks:

N95 masks provide a higher degree of protection than a surgical mask or cloth mask because they can filter out both large and small particles when the wearer breathes. They’re called N95 masks because they’re designed to block 95% of particles or liquids that may come in contact with your face. However, these masks are not for general public use and should be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders. They’re also incompatible with children or people with facial hair. Healthcare providers are fit tested for these masks, and like surgical masks, they’re intended to be single-use only, though researchers are examining effective ways to clean these masks.

Face masks with valves:

These masks may make it easier to breathe out, but as the wearer is doing so, they’re also exhaling their germs into the air around them. Increasingly more medical facilities around the country have banned the use of masks with valves. They do a good job protecting the wearer, but because of the one-way valves, they don’t offer much protection to the people around the wearer. If the wearer is contagious, either knowingly or unknowingly, they could still be spreading the virus to others around them. Since the main reason to wear a mask is to protect others, a simpler mask with a filter may be a better choice.

Now to the controversial neck gaiters…

Duke University researchers used an optical imaging approach involving a laser and a camera to test the differences in effectiveness of 14 types of face coverings. The researchers found that the neck gaiter a sun-protection staple that was never designed or intended as a coronavirus-fighting measure actually disperses the largest respiratory droplets into multiple smaller droplets, which stay airborne longer because large droplets sink faster. In other words, speaking through one of these masks seems to create a lighter, longer-lasting, virus-carrying army.

Stay safe and healthy. To learn more on how to properly clean your face mask visit the CDC

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