What does CDC say about the difference between wearing a surgical mask and a N95 mask?

FDA has recommended using surgical masks in place of N95 masks due to the scarcity of the latter but CDC differentiates between the two.

As the nation's health protection agency Centres for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), with its headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, is an agency of the US Department of Health and Human Services. It is the nation’s health protection agency, and thus, it has its mission to save lives and protect people from any potential threat that could come from outside or  the US. Thus when the coronavirus pandemic broke, the CDC on its official website reviewed the disease COVID-19, precautions, safety measures, and other details about the pandemic. 

CDC mentioned the use of different masks for different categories of people. Earlier, the masks were meant only for the medical experts, but the pandemic made the masks an integral part of our lives. CDC stated the difference between the masks, uses, or the masks and the approved dealers or manufacturer of the masks. CDC, on its website, has mentioned using other PPE, sanitizers, self-isolation, and other details to help stop the spread of the disease.   

What are surgical masks?

Surgical masks are also known as the medical mask. It  is a loose-fitting disposable mask that protects the wearer’s nose and mouth from contact with the following:

  1. Droplets 
  2. Splashes, 
  3. Sprays that may contain germs.  
  4. Large particles in the air. 
  5. Exposure to the saliva and 
  6. respiratory secretions of the mask wearer. 

The masks are a good option, but as per the US Food and Drug Administration, the surgical masks can be used. N95 masks are not available. 

What are N95 Masks? 

N95 masks are a type of respirator that offers more protection than a surgical mask as it filters out both large and small particles when the wearer inhales. The name N95 is designated as it blocks 95% of microscopic particles. An N95 respirator is a respiratory protective device that gives a very close facial fit and effectively filters the airborne particles. The design of the mask is such that the edges form a seal around the nose and mouth. It is recommended that N95 masks are not shared. There are different types of N95 masks. The common ones are 3M N95, N95, KN95, and a few more. Health care providers should have proper training and need to be fit to confirm a proper seal before using an N95 respirator in the workplace. After using the N95 masks, disposing of the mask is recommended, as the surgical masks; the N95 masks should be disposed of after use. Research is being conducted to disinfect N95 masks and make them reusable. 

What is the difference between surgical masks and N95 masks?


The CDC trusts N95 respirators to defend the spread of the virus as it has multiple layers of filters ensure that the air breather is inhaling and is 95% free from dust particles and pollutants. Also, breathing resistance in the N95 masks is comparatively lesser than most of the other types of masks; thus, the wearer can wear it without suffocating. 

The effectiveness of the N95 masks depends widely on the correct usage of the mask. 

The CDC has instructions on the package for putting the respirator and getting a tight seal. After the respirator is on and formed to your face, check the fit of the respirator. Place both hands on the respirator. Exhale sharply and check the placement of the mask. If the air leaks, then re-adjust the respirator and exhale sharply again to check the mask’s fit. Wearing the mask correctly ensures the safety of the wearer. The surgical mask CDC has mentioned that it is not  surgical protection, and it is not reliable protection from inhaling smaller airborne particles.  


While CDC has approved the usage of both types of masks due to the heavy demand and extreme scarcity of the N95 masks. Yet places emphasis that surgical masks are not foolproof. It further states that different combinations in use of masks should be done to increase the mask’s useful life. It is recommended that face shields or surgical masks, if worn over the N95 masks, then the life of the mask increases as it is protected from virus contamination. FDA approves surgical masks and the N95 masks are approved by the FDA and NIOSH.

The fit of the mask:

A surgical mask is a loosely fitted mask that may or may not have a metal on the nose bridge. N95 mask, on the other hand, is a tightly fitting mask that provides utmost safety for the wearer from the virus. Surgical masks protect from bacteria and liquid. The fit of a surgical mask allows the wearer to breathe from, it with extreme ease and thus it is easy to use it for long hours, CDC on the other hand, claims that N95 is tight fitted thus it is not easy to breathe from it and it adds that N95 masks with valves are not safe, and should be avoided. 

Reuse of the mask:

N95 respirators are meant for reuse if the manufacturer claims it be. It can be reused after sanitizing it as CDC claims that there is a major dearth of the masks. On the other hand, the surgical masks are completely disposable and are not recommended for use even after sanitization.     

CDC recommends that both surgical masks and n95 masks, irrespective of their approvals, protection, reuse, and fit, are kept in reserve for the healthcare providers during the pandemic.

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