Face Mask Types & Effectiveness: Late-Stage Pandemic Essentials
From the beginning up to the present time, face masks have played a prominent role in the pandemic, and look to remain as relevant as ever in the near future.
Health Canada currently recommends using face masks as a way to stop the spread of COVID-19 along with hand washing, physical distancing, and vaccinations. At first, different government sources did not publicly recommend the use of medical-grade face masks due to their limited supply. But now, at the midpoint of 2021, things have changed; what was previously rare has become more available as manufacturers catch up with demand.
As conditions change, let’s take a look at some of the most pressing questions for right now.
With so many vaccinations, is it still important to wear a face mask?
The widespread implementation of vaccinations have proven to be the decisive factor in lowering infection rates across the country. But, as provinces across Canada continue to repeal lockdowns, the need for face masks remains high.
Even if you get the vaccination, there is still a (small) chance that you can get sick from COVID-19, which also means it’s possible to transmit the disease without getting it yourself.
Despite dwindling numbers, the public should not become complacent, something especially true as COVID-19 variants from around the world continue to spread. By adhering to our original regimen of face masking, hand washing, and vaccinating, we inch closer to finally ending this two-year-long pandemic.
What kind of face mask should I wear?
Health Canada recommends the general public to wear non-medical masks such as cloth masks or reusable masks with filters. It recommends medical masks for people who are at higher risk of severe health outcomes if they contract COVID-19, or for people who live or work in workplaces or environments that present a higher risk of transmission.
Upgrading from a cloth mask to a medical-grade mask can give you a higher level of protection that you have been missing out on. It also makes sense to take extra precautions at this late stage of the pandemic as variants continue to spread, or if other people aren’t wearing any mask protection.
If you are considering buying a medical mask for yourself, one thing you don’t have to worry about is taking resources away from where it is needed most. As of January 2021, the City of Toronto has procured more than 31 million Level 2 surgical masks for its front line workers.
How effective is each type of mask?
The important thing to keep in mind about face coverings is that a wider range of solutions have become more available to protect the public.
Choose the type that best suits your needs from the following options:
- Disposable N95 & KN95 Masks
N95 masks represent the highest level of protection you can generally purchase from retail sources. Better known as “respirators,” these medical-grade masks protect users by filtering out 95% of particles from the air. N95 masks offer more protection than a surgical mask because it filters out both large and small particles from the air.
The difference between KN95 and N95 is that the former is made to China specifications, while the latter is made to U.S. standards. If purchasing KN95s, it is recommended to buy those that meet the requirements of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). According to the CDC, approximately 60% of KN95s in the U.S. may be fake and do not meet NIOSH requirements.
These types of masks are not meant to be reusable, and should be discarded after each use. Many come with “ventilator valves” that make breathing out easier, but have been banned from certain places because they emit unfiltered air.
- Disposable Surgical Masks
Disposable surgical masks have the advantage of offering users a brand new mask which can be thrown away after each use. They should never be used twice, or shared with another person. Also known as medical masks, these masks often have multiple layers that can provide extra protection.
According to a 2013 study published in Aerosol Science and Technology, surgical face masks can filter out about 60% of smaller particles, making them a reliable source of protection.
These masks are primarily intended to stop droplets, sprays and splatters. Using them can significantly reduce the spread of respiratory infections.
- Reusable Face Masks
Store-bought cloth face coverings have proven to be very effective at limiting the spread of transmissible diseases. Users should ensure that their masks have a snug fit, be made from tight-weave 100% cotton cloth, and contain multiple layers (like a 3-ply mask).
Researchers from the Universities of Bristol and Surrey have found that well-fitting, three-layered cloth masks can be as effective at reducing the transmission of COVID-19 as surgical masks, with both reducing exposure by 50 to 75%.
Reusable face masks come in different variations:
Cloth filter masks
These may feature pockets into which users can put changeable filters such as:
- A piece of non-woven polypropylene fabric
- A paper kitchen towel that has been folded in half
- A baby wipe that has been rinsed, dried and folded in half
Bandana Masks, Black Masks & Fashion Masks
- Functionally the same as cloth masks
- Design (eg. single layer) may affect effectiveness
- Children need specially-made masks that fit their smaller faces
- The fit should snug without any gaps
- Don’t put a mask on children under 2 years of age
- Very useful for communicating with people that are hard of hearing or read lips
- Allows users to be more emotive
Are you interested in buying face masks? Factory Direct Medical offers a wide variety of face masks of which many are currently clearance priced! Save up to 50% or more in this limited-time promotion! And, to understand more about face masks during the pandemic, check out this blog!