The COVID-19 pandemic has the world on high alert. And rightfully so. Compared to the typical influenza virus (better known as the seasonal flu virus), SARS-COV-2 (the other name for COVID-19), is much more contagious and difficult to deal with.
The best way to fight this pandemic? Prevention. This relies heavily on hand washing, social distancing and just staying home. But this isn’t practical 100% of the time, as essential supplies get run down, and if you’re an essential worker, you are in the highest risk bracket of contracting the illness.
Which leads to the other essential way to prevent contracting the virus; face masks. You have undoubtedly heard as of recently that the World Health Organisation (WHO) and many of the world’s leading regulatory health agencies have changed their tune from “face masks not being beneficial”, to the fact that emerging evidence is proving that they could help reduce infection rates.
But are all masks created the same? They are advocating for home-made cloth masks, but does it match up to the gold standard medical grade masks? Let’s check them out now.
N95/KN95/P2 Face Masks
For years limited to medical professionals and those in some industrial careers, N95 masks, also known by the equivalent names KN95 or P2, are the most highly in demand based on the fact that their filtration capacity is superior to all others on the market.
These masks are capable of filtering 95% of particles sized 0.3 microns (sometimes from 0.1 microns, depending on manufacturer specifics), which includes the majority of dust, bacteria and even viruses. N95/ KN95 masks are useful against both droplet and airborne particles, making them amongst the best protection you can buy.
Surgical Face Masks
Surgical masks are routinely worn my medical professionals and are effective to a moderate extent in protecting against large particle droplets, such as body fluids one may encounter in a medical setting. However, their usefulness is limited depending on the actually particle size, and besides just reducing exposure risk, do not boast a high prevention rate altogether.
Cloth Face Masks
There have been recent recommendations by the CDC, WHO and other regulatory healthy bodies to use cloth based protective face masks, which in reality, may be offering false security and cause undue exposure.
The majority of these “homemade” face masks comprise of cotton, which is a porous fabric that DOES NOT do a good job of stopping airborne or droplet particles. This means that if someone in the vicinity sneezes, you virtually have only a very miniscule contact risk.
Does this mean that they are useless? Not fully. They can be helpful in acting as a barrier preventing you from unwittingly touching your face and mouth with dirty hands, and can be considered better than nothing at all, but are overall not good at preventing you from contracting COVID-19.
The main reason that the major regulatory bodies have been advocating the use of cloth masks, and discouraging the use of KN95/N95 masks is based on availability. Medical professionals at the forefront of the pandemic need these masks the most, but it is also irresponsible for you to not use them yourself if they are available to you.
The fact that COVID-19 is mostly unpredictable and highly contagious should point out that it is critical you prevent this infection from spreading. One of the best ways to do this? Use your KN95 mask and wash your hands like a maniac.
You can view an infographic provided by the CDC here detailing a further difference between surgical and N95 masks.