Confused about whether a mask is effective? You are not alone. Depending on the type of mask you are using it may be able to help prevent you from getting sick, or it may be reducing the chances you are spreading the virus to other people.
- N95 masks are some of the most protective masks for the wearer, filtering out at least 95% of small 0.3 micron particles when worn properly. Currently, due to short supply of masks and other protective gear for healthcare workers on the front lines, the most protective masks such as N95s should be reserved for them so that they can continue to take care of people safely and because they are at very high risk of exposure every day.
- Surgical masks are not as effective as N95s at protecting the wearer because they are not tight fitting but are still effective at reducing transmission, particularly if the wearer is sick (or presumed to be). Several studies have shown that these are suitable even for most COVID-19 treatment scenarios, just not hospital procedures such as intubations where there is a lot of aerosolized saliva. For this reason, surgical masks should also primarily be left for healthcare workers.
- Cloth masks are unlikely to protect the wearer but do help you stop the spread of the virus, and that helps all of us. Wearing a cloth mask when you are in public helps reduce transmission of outgoing particles from you to other people. This is important and effective even if you don’t have symptoms, because being contagious starts days before symptoms start. How effective these masks are depends on the material used and the fit.
Georgia Tech has put together a great guide for making masks at home – what fabrics to use, plans for different styles of masks, and a guide for mask hygiene found here: https://pwp.gatech.edu/rapid-response/face-masks/
I don’t have any symptoms and I’m just going to the grocery store. Should I wear a mask? Yes, that is a great time to wear a mask because even if you feel fine, you could still spreading the virus to other people. The mask can help reduce that transmission, and that helps all of us.
Should I wear a mask when I’m running? Wearing a mask while running could be dangerous by limiting the amount of oxygen you are getting and increasing the amount of carbon dioxide you are breathing back in. Instead, practice extended social distancing (12-15 ft if walking, 30 ft of running or biking slowly, 65 ft if biking faster).
What should I buy/make a mask out of that would give me the best protection? What else should I look for? The effectiveness of different everyday materials is still being studied, but one of the highest performers was 600 thread count (or higher) pillowcases. The more tightly woven the fabric, the better it works. You should also look for a close fit. The looser the mask the less protection.
If everyone is wearing a mask is it safe to meet up with friends or family? Going in public should still only be when necessary such as grocery shopping. The better we reduce transmission now, the sooner we can get back to seeing friends and family safely.