If we had been told a few years ago that we would all be needing to wear masks out of our homes, would you have believed them? The answer for most of us is probably not. With the onset of COVID-19, all of our lives have been affected in one way or another. The world is changing, and it will take time for this virus to go away. This is not the first pandemic to hit the world, and it will not be the last. 

Face masks have been around for centuries, and now with COVID-19, there is a greater demand than ever before. While scientists learn more about the coronavirus affecting us, we must maintain safety measures until researchers can develop a vaccine. Therefore, it is essential to use face masks while in the medical field or just out in public.

Face masks have been with us throughout history. Masks have served to alter identity, disguise whether in theater or ritual. Face masks have also been used in crime throughout the world. Medical masks have also been used for centuries, but these masks are used to protect and not hide identity. 

Europe in the 17th-century had doctors that wore leather headdresses with a beak that was long for protection. These early medical masks had beaks that were filled with aromatics and perfumes to mask bad odors. The aromatics were thought to help combat viruses and the plague that were carried in the air. These masks with beaks and perfumes became more stylized and were used in carnivals and stage productions. 

In the 19th century, women began wearing lacy veils to protect from dust; Georges-Eugene Haussmann’s reinventing Paris created dust. When researchers started using microscopes, they were able to see that bacteria were present on dust. Medical and fashion began to intertwine. 

In 1878 an article was printed in the Scientific American written by A.J. Jessup, a physician from New York that recommended cotton masks to offer protection during epidemics. Although he cited his findings, the idea of cotton masks did not catch on. 

In 1905, A physician from Chicago named Alice Hamilton published an article in the American Medical Journal that showed the amount and proof of streptococci bacteria expelled when patients who had scarlet fever cried or coughed. She also studied and measured the strep bacteria present in healthy nurses and doctors when they coughed or talked. These findings had her recommend that masks be worn during surgery. 

An epidemic of pneumonic plague hit Manchuria in 1910. During this time, a physician named Wu Lien-The argues that this disease is spread through the air. To help stop the disease spread, he begins developing masks to be worn by the general public and medical personnel. 

During the global flu pandemic of 1918, medical workers use masks to protect themselves, and masks were ordered to be worn in many public cities. In the city of Seattle, all passengers on streetcars were required to wear face masks. As the demand grew, the Red Cross enlisted 120 workers who made 260,000 masks in just three days. 

By the time the 1920s came around, medical masks were standard in operating rooms in the United States. During the next century, scientists and researchers experiment with materials and designs. In London, with all the smog, Britons adopted smog masks for protection. 

In 2010, designer Alexander McQueen exhibited a men’s clothing collection that featured balaclavas and face masks. This exhibit took place one month before the designer’s death. 

Singer Ariana Grande included face masks in her merchandise selection that had face masks. The singer continues to manufacture and sell masks that are of a limited edition. 

As the pandemic sweeps the world, 3D printing and sewing of surgical masks and shields have become the 21st-century knitting socks for the military or rolling bandages. 

What Type of Masks Should We Wear?

Knowing the type of masks that should be worn for protection is a question that is commonly asked. Because there are different levels of protection needed, the variety of masks also differ. 

The experts recommend wearing cloth masks for those who are out in public shopping or just doing everyday chores. Cloth masks should be worn in public, including on mass and public transportation, gatherings and events, and any place where there will be other people around. 

Face masks will prevent people who already have COVID-19 from spreading it to others. These masks help reduce the risk of spreading the virus when people out in public use them. 

The CDC also states that face masks should not be worn by those under two years of age or by anyone unconscious, cannot remove the mask without assistance, or has trouble breathing. 

Cloth masks are used as a simple barrier to help reduce respiratory droplets from traveling in the air to other people when someone coughs, sneezes, or talks. Wearing masks in this instance is what is known as source control. The recommendation comes from the knowledge that we have concerning COVID-19 and the spread through respiratory droplets and evidence that is emerging from laboratory and clinical studies that prove that masks reduce the spray of droplets when appropriately worn over the nose and mouth. This virus mainly spreads among individuals that are in close contact or less than 6 feet apart. So, the cloth face masks are particularly important when people are close to one another, or proper social distancing recommendations cannot be followed. 

Cloth Masks and Those with COVID-19

If you believe you may have COVID-19 or thought you might have the virus, do not go into public areas. It is recommended that you stay at home unless you are going to get medical care. Stay in one room as much as possible and away from other family members and pets. If you need to be around pets and other people, then you should be wearing a mask. The face mask will help to prevent your respiratory droplets from getting on other people and pets. 

Cloth masks can be made at home or purchased online or in brick and mortar stores. Online retailers carry cloth masks that can be purchased individually or in bulk. 

There are other options for those who do not want to purchase face masks online from larger retailers. It is possible to make masks at home even if you cannot sew. Some make masks using socks and other different types of products. The CDC gives instructions on how to make face masks that do not take sewing. There are also instructions supplied for those who can sew. 

CDC sewing instructions for cloth masks: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-to-make-cloth-face-covering.html

Individuals who enjoy sewing have taken to sewing cloth face masks and either donating or selling them. Many of the social media websites have groups where face masks can be purchased or posted for sale. 

N95 Masks

Medical masks that were once only used in certain professions are now becoming commonplace. It is essential to know that not all medical masks are the same. Filtering respirators fitted are known as N95 masks and are regulated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. 

Masks ending in the numbers 95 have 95 percent efficiency. For masks ending in the numbers 99, this means that they have a 99 percent efficiency.

N95 is recommended for all healthcare workers and those who are working on the frontlines. With the onset of the pandemic, there has been a shortage of N95 masks, and manufacturers have produced more. One such manufacturer is Honeywell. Honeywell addressed the growing demand for N95 masks by ramping up production in its plants. Honeywell is in the process of making millions of N95 masks in the United States. The masks made by Honeywell are being delivered to the United States Department of Health and Human Services so that medical professionals and those working on the front lines will have the equipment that they need to remain safe. 

Difference Between the KN95 and N95 Mask 

Although the N95 and KN95 masks sound-alike, there are differences. Both types of masks consist of several layers of polymer that is a synthetic material. Both masks are manufactured to be worn over the face's nose and mouth section and are secured with straps. They are required to capture and filter 95% of particles in the air, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

How Are N95 Masks Made

The medical N95 respirator consists of several layers of fabric that are nonwoven and often manufactured using polypropylene. The two outside layers of fabric cover the outside and inside the mask and are made using spun bonding. Between the layers, there is a pre-filter layer. Each N95 mask is fitted to the individual snug and offer the best protection available. 

Because of the shortage of N95 masks, governments have become stricter with the manufacturing and selling of masks. 

Where to Buy N95 Masks

N95 masks can be purchased from reputable medical supply companies. These masks can be purchased online or from a local supplier in person. Many of the more massive brick-and-mortar businesses, including Home Depot, are now carrying the masks and have them in stock (though stock at such stores are to be examined with skepticism given many past scams). With the manufacturing of the N95 masks, the shortages have gotten less. It is still important to save using the N95 masks for those working in the medical profession. We must have enough of the masks to serve those who are working to help those affected by the virus and those who are more at risk.

When facing a shortage of N95 masks, it became clear that counterfeit masks were popping up for sale. When ordering the masks, you will want to be sure that you are getting authentic masks. Yes, there may be a shortage, but it is important to be safe with masks that are made for protection. 

Here are a few tips for spotting counterfeit N95 masks:

  • Any N95 mask that states it is approved for children to wear is not a proper N95 mask.
  • If the mask has ear loops, it is not a N95. N95s have straps that fit around the head. 
  • NIOSH is misspelled or not present at all.
  • N95 masks do not have decorative fabric. 
  • Approval number is missing.

The CDC recommends that when searching online to purchase N95 masks that you remain skeptical. Before making a purchase check the reviews of the seller. Does the seller specialize in medical equipment? If the seller seems to be just selling trendy products or unlimited stock, do not make purchases without doing more review. It is important to know that proper PPP is still in short supply for many medical workers, and authentic masks are needed. 

Here are a few of the recommended medical supply companies where N95 masks can be purchased. 

Online N95 mask supplier list:

  • https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npptl/topics/respirators/disp_part/n95list1-a.html

For questions regarding the authenticity of N95 masks, the CDC has the answers that are needed. We must follow all recommendations when it comes to slowing the spread of the virus. Social distancing with a 6-foot distance between people and proper handwashing is needed. Handwashing recommendations are as follows: 

  • Hands must be washed with water and soap for at least 60 seconds. Hands should be washed when soiled. After using the restroom, and before eating. If there is no soap and water available, the CDC recommends using hand sanitizer until soap and water can be used. 

It is important to note that there still may be a shortage of personal protective equipment for those in the medical field and on the front lines. If we all do our part in helping to slow the spread of the virus, it will give mask manufacturing companies the time to make masks and other protective equipment. N95 masks may be in a shortage now, but this will not always be the case.