With the pandemic, the topic of face masks has been a very controversial and concerning one. Disposable face masks, face shields, KN95 masks, surgical masks, reusable cloth masks, and especially N95 masks seem to be all we hear or read about on the news or online. Whether it’s about shortages, the question of if we really need to wear them, or which one should we wear, they’ve certainly been the protagonists of this very confusing year.
So, with all the confusion and uncertainty surrounding ourselves with the pandemic, it’s always important to be as informed as possible. There’s a lot of disinformation and myths about face masks that could potentially put people’s lives at risk. So, today we’ll tell you everything there is to know about why PPE (personal protective equipment) is important during the pandemic, what N95 masks really are and their importance, and three common pieces of disinformation about them.
The pandemic and the importance of PPE
Eight months into the pandemic is enough time for all of us to know the basics of this virus. It’s a new species of the coronavirus genus, which has been known to infect the respiratory system of humans for years. These infections tend to be very mild and flu-like, but the SARS-CoV-2, the name given to the new coronavirus, seems to be acting differently.
This new virus, in the majority of the cases, leads to a mild respiratory infection, with symptoms like dry cough, sore throat, and muscle pain. In fact, a big size of the cases is made up of asymptomatic infections. But, there’s another group of people who are at a high risk of developing very serious symptoms and complications from the virus.
Among these people, we can name older people, immunocompromised patients, cardiovascular patients, people with diabetes or obesity, among other comorbidities. In these people, a COVID-19 infection could lead to very serious damage to the lungs, and even to other organs as well, with the potential to cause a multi-organ failure.
Even though the size of this group of cases is relatively small, if too many people get infected at the same time, it becomes a considerable amount of people. This is why, even if you’re a younger person or even kids, who are not at risk of developing a severe COVID-19 infection, you need to wear a face-covering to protect those vulnerable people from getting infected.
N95 masks: what are they and why are they so important?
A great part of our focus and concern right now is fixed on N95 masks, but do you know why they’re so important? They are considered the best disposable face mask for virus protection because of its antiviral properties, which are higher than those in surgical masks. N95 masks are also known as N95 respirators, in fact, because they’re part of the NIOSH classification for respirators.
A respirator is any mask or mask-like device that has a filter material through which dangerous particles get trapped when the wearer inhales, preventing them from inhaling them. This is why respirators are part of the PPE in many work fields and industries in which respiratory hazards, particles that could lead to serious health issues, are present.
For this reason, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), as part of their responsibility to prevent work-related injuries or illnesses, has a set of standards to rate and classify respirators in the United States. According to this classification, respirators are named based on their resistance to oil and their percentage of minimum particulate filtration efficacy.
The first is indicated with a letter, which can be either N for not resistant, R for resistant, and P for oil-proof. The latter is indicated with a percentage number that can be 95, 99, or 100%. According to this, N95 masks are respirators that are not resistant to oil, and that can filter out at least 95% of the airborne particles present in the air.
N95 respirators are therefore efficient to filter non-oil based airborne particles, such as dust, smoke, or viruses like the flu or the coronavirus. This is the reason why N95 masks are so effective and important for protection during the pandemic, and why they’ve been scarce in the USA and the world during the last several months.
The three most common pieces of disinformation about N95 masks
Face masks, and especially N95 respirators, weren’t common for regular people, so, logically, many of us don’t know much about them. Misinformation is very easy to encounter, and can be very dangerous, which is why we bring you three common myths about N95 respirators so you can use them properly and safely:
- Surgical and N95 work the same
As we mentioned in our explanation of N95 masks, these have a higher filtration rate and antiviral properties than surgical masks, and also offer a tighter seal around the face. The latter aren’t efficient for filtering small airborne particles, and only work as a physical barrier against big splashes and droplets, filtering only bigger particles.
- The tight fit of the N95 mask makes it hard to breathe and could be dangerous
N95 masks are made with a filter material that has an electrostatic charge. This way, the holes of the filter can be bigger, making it easier to breathe, while still capturing harmful particles with the electric charge. Also, carbon dioxide, unlike viruses and the other harmful particles, is small enough to pass through the mask, so a build-up of this substance isn’t possible. No, you won’t get suffocated by wearing an N95 mask.
- I can decorate by N95 mask to make it look better
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), any alteration done to the N95 respirator voids the NIOSH approval because it’s not guaranteed to keep functioning the same way and offering the same level of protection.
N95 masks can be bought in bulk or wholesale, and it’s easy to find options for sale online. Some of the most popular ones are 3M N95 masks, including the models 3M 8511 and 3M 8210. Remember that these are medical-grade face masks, and should be prioritized for medical centers and first responders.