If 2020 were to be summarized in pictures, I am sure the picture of a mask would be in the top 5. Masks and the various questions surrounding them have been in the news from the very beginning of the pandemic, and even after a year now, we still have some of the same queries:

  • What type of mask should we be wearing? 
  • How should we wear them? 
  • Should we be double masking? 

First of all, do we need to wear masks? The answer to that is a resounding yes. Quickly into the pandemic, all researchers agreed that COVID-19 (SARS-CoV2) is an airborne virus and so wearing a mask protects those around you as well as yourself. There have been many medications and therapies tested to see what can combat this virus, but masks and social distancing have been repeatedly proven to reduce transmission of COVID-19 (SARS-CoV2). 

Different Types of Masks:

Let’s start with the various masks available in the market and how effective they are in regards to protecting you from COVID-19 (SARS-CoV2). 

N95 Masks

These are the most effective out of all the masks available. These have an electrostatic filter that catches particles. When fitted and worn properly, they can trap 95% of particles as small as 0.3 microns. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that this mask be worn by healthcare workers who do high-risk aerosol-generating procedures like intubation. 

Surgical Masks

Surgical masks are made of three-layered non-woven fabric. The top colored layer is medical grade polypropylene in a web-like structure. They have small bendable wires that allow them to fit around the nose but overall are loose-fitting masks. These masks prevent large-particle droplets, splashes, or splatters containing germs from entering the nose and mouth. They are not as effective as the N95 masks but offer more protection than cloth masks. These are recommended for healthcare workers, COVID-19 patients, and those who look after them. 

Cloth Masks

Cloth masks are worn by the general public. The effectiveness of these masks depends on how they have been made. A single layer mask is only 26% effective but adding multiple layers can increase effectiveness to 50%. A study published last September has shown that out of cotton, polyester, and silk, silk was shown to be a breathable fabric and can repel large droplets. When choosing a cloth mask, make sure it has multiple layers with a tight weave. If fibers in the mask can be seen when held up to the light, then it is not likely to be effective. 

Effectiveness of Double Masking

Currently, there are no studies to prove whether double masking – wearing a cloth and a surgical mask – is more effective. However, given the increasing number of coronavirus variants and transmissibility, prevention of the virus is imperative. Therefore, it makes sense that double masking can provide a better fit on the face as well as preventing virus particles from entering or exiting the nose or mouth. 

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