Recently, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that wearing face masks protects both you and those around you. "Since then, only more evidence has surfaced that masks help drive down the risk of COVID-19 for everyone. But what type of face mask protection is the best? In this blog post, we'll find out by reviewing the CDC's newest guidelines.
Skip the N95 Masks and Exhalation Valves
Before we dive into what makes for the best face mask, the CDC wants to remind you: Don't buy N95 masks for your personal use. Because these masks filter out 95% of all particles, they are obviously a desirable option. But they're also considered critical supplies that must be reserved for our healthcare workers on the frontline of our battle with the coronavirus. Besides this, N95 masks must be properly fitted to each doctor's or nurse's face contours; without this expert fitting, they may not perform as well as you think they do.
You should also be wary of N95-type masks sold at major retail distributors. Not only are these not certified to filter out 95% of all particles, but these replications often come with exhalation valves in them. These valves can make these masks more comfortable to wear, but they do nothing to stop your particles from exiting the mask and potentially infecting those around you.
Good Fabric and Layers = Good Face Masks
"You want to have a minimum two-ply mask, preferably a three-ply mask," explains Joseph Gardner Allen. He's the Director of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health's Healthy Buildings program. Allen also emphasizes the importance of fit: "You want the mask to go over the bridge of the nose, below the chin and be flush on the face, resting along the skin. You want your breath going through the filter media and not escaping out the sides."
According the new CDC guidance, you should also use cloth masks with high thread counts. You can check the weave tightness of a mask by using light. When you hold your mask up to the light, do you see the outline of individual fibers? Then it's probably not a very effective form of coronavirus protection.
As Allen mentioned, two or three layers should suffice for your face mask. The rule of thumb is to have as many layers as possible without sacrificing breathability. Basically, if you can't breathe easily, then you probably won't end up keeping the mask on for long.
Per the CDC, "multiple layers of cloth with higher thread counts have demonstrated superior performance compared to single layers of cloth with lower thread counts, in some cases filtering nearly 50% of fine particles less than 1 micron." Considering that the coronavirus strain at the heart of this pandemic travels in aerosols between 1 and 4 microns big, that's good news. Studies have shown that multi-layered face masks can block 50% to 80% of particles as well as limit the forward spread of droplets not captured.
How to Enhance Filtering Effectiveness
Polypropylene is one of the world's most common plastics. According to the CDC, it may enhance filtering capabilities because it creates a triboelectric charge. In layman's terms, it creates a static cling. Essentially, this static traps any droplets from others as well as your own outgoing respiration.
If your two- or three-ply mask supports the insertion of filters, go for a polypropylene one. It's worth noting that washing does kill this material's electrical charge. But you can get that back by briskly rubbing it between your fingers for a short amount of time.
While we're on the topic of washing, the CDC recommends that reusable masks should be washed daily to avoid trapping germs. And you shouldn't use the mask again until it's completely dry since wet fabric is more difficult to breathe in. Also, change your mask filter regularly. It can clog. You can tell if it's clogged because it will be a bit harder to breathe.
Practice Proper Mask Etiquette
Even if you're wearing a fitted two- or three-ply face mask with a polypropylene filter, it can still fail if you're wearing it wrong. To stop the spread of the coronavirus, we must all cover our faces completely — this means not letting it slip under your nose.
You may think we're being sticklers about noses, but they are extremely important. Nose droplets tend to be smaller than those from the mouth. This means they can remain in the air for a much longer time. Nose droplets also travel further; they can even spread by more than 26 feet ahead of a person sneezing.
If you find it difficult to breathe while your nose is covered, it's time to look for a mask that fits better. Whether you're outside, in the supermarket, or in an Uber taxi, you want your mask to cover your nose.
Don't Forget Your Hand Sanitizer
Regardless of if you're wearing a neck gaiter, cloth face mask, or surgical mask, you're going to end up taking it on and off to eat or adjust it. So don't forget your hand sanitizer! You always want to have clean hands whenever you interact with your mask.
We hope you've found this brief overview of the CDC's new face mask guidelines informative. To sum it up, wear a multi-layered face mask that fits well. Use a polypropylene filter if you can. And carry hand sanitizer with you wherever you go. Stay safe out there!
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