If you’re wondering whether or not you should buy a face mask to protect you from COVID-19, this article is for you.
The short answer is: Yes – wearing a face mask will protect you at different degrees depending on the situation and depending on the types of mask.
The long answer is a little more complicated. Whether or not you choose to wear a face mask depends on a few factors that have to do with what’s available in your area, how much you need one, and at what risks you’re exposed in your daily life.
Let’s explore these different factors so you can decide with confidence whether you should actually wear a face mask or not.
What type of mask will protect me in different situations?
For the purpose of simplicity, let’s examine the three main types of coverings that people are using during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Surgical face masks – surgical face masks are becoming the recommended norm in many countries around the world. However, they do not provide the wearer with any extra protection. They provide the wearer with the ability to prevent spreading the disease to others. Surgical masks air filtration levels reach up to 1-2-3 percent.
- Cloth face coverings – Cloth face coverings have been recommended by the C.D.C. as an easy do-it-yourself alternative to surgical masks. They are similar to surgical masks in that they do not provide the wearer any protection through filtration, but they prevent the wearer from spreading the disease to other people around them.
- Respirator face masks – Respirators such as N95 or KN95 are an effective form of personal protective equipment (PPE) that provides you with at least 95 percent protection from airborne viral particles in the air. This means that if an N95 respirator is worn correctly, it is one of the most powerful forms of PPE you can wear. Due to shortages in some parts of the world, N95 have been saved for medical personnel and shouldn’t usually be used by the general public unless they’re in easy access.
Why and when should you actually wear a face mask?
Surgical face masks – the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend wearing a surgical face mask anytime you’re going outside, regardless if you are showing any symptoms of a virus or not. Surgical face masks are inexpensive and easy to find, making them a great way to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic if they’re worn by the general public.
Cloth face coverings – everything said about surgical face masks can be said about cloth face coverings. They provide a similar degree of protection but they’re an easy to make, do-it-yourself alternative. They are recommended by the CDC for the general public anytime they’re going out whether it’s a walk to the park or just going to the store.
N95 respirators – you can wear an N95 respirator if they are easily accessible and not in critical shortage. Even though they are usually reserved for medical personnel, nothing stops everyday working people from buying a respirator to guarantee themselves a higher degree of protection.
If you’re in a work environment…
Regardless of whether or not your work environment exposes you to higher risk of meeting the novel coronavirus, wearing a surgical face mask has become standard practice for many businesses around the world. The same can be said for N95 respirators.
N95 respirators are nevertheless used by many industries to protect from dust particles, and they could serve a purpose for filtering out more than just dust and dirt out of the air. If you want to ensure yourself more protection while you’re at work, wearing an N95 respirator could help you achieve just that.
If you’re going out in a social setting…
The CDC recommends wearing a surgical face mask or cloth face coverings anytime you’re going out in a social setting. This will prevent infected wearers from spreading the disease in others, especially in situations where social distancing cannot be properly maintained.
Keep in mind that, regardless of which mask you choose to wear, social distancing remains one of the most powerful ways to prevent the spread of the virus and therefore should be put first. Masks should be your last line of defense, not your first and only one.
If you’re working in healthcare…
If you’re working in any healthcare position whatsoever, you’re probably supplied with the necessary protective equipment, both surgical face masks and respirators. Wearing them is absolutely necessary, especially if you’re in close contact with infected patients, and wearing them outside your healthcare facility is just as important as wearing them inside.
Wearing a face mask is a great way to increase the degree of protection for both yourself and your family. That being said, they should remain your last line of defense against the virus, and cannot serve as a substitute for social distancing.
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