What’s the most effective face covering?

We know face masks are a simple way to reduce coronavirus transmission and save lives. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), wearing a face mask in public places has been shown to greatly reduce the spread of COVID-19. However, did you know that some masks are more effective than others? Below is a list of face coverings and the effectiveness of each. 

Types of face coverings in order of effectiveness:

N95 masks: These are the most effective masks.They provide a higher degree of protection than a surgical or cloth mask because they filter out large and small particles. They are called N95 masks because they are designed to block out 95% of particles and liquids. Because they are in short supply and most effective these masks should be saved for healthcare providers rather than the general pubic.

Surgical masks: Also called medical masks — are loose-fitting and disposable. They protect the nose and mouth from coming into contact with droplets that could carry germs. Because only a tiny fraction of droplets can get through, they are the next most effective mask. Surgical masks are designed to be single-use masks.

Fabric/cloth masks: Fabric or cloth masks trap droplets released when the person wearing the mask sneezes, coughs or talks. They reduce the spread of viruses, are easy to purchase or make at home, and can be washed and worn again. While these masks are not a substitute for N95 masks, cloth masks are a good alternative if they are worn properly and are made with multiple layers.

Face masks with valves: These masks may make it easier to breathe out, but allow for the germs exhaled to go back into the air.  They do a good job protecting the person wearing the mask, but they don’t offer much protection to the people around them..

Bandanas: These have proven to be one of the least effective. According to the study published in June, from the  Journal of Physics of Fluids. Although a bandana can reduce the range of particles expelled when breathing out, it scores lower than an uncovered cough at stopping the smallest respiratory droplets.

Neck gaiter face covering: This type of face covering is popular with y folks who tend to exercise frequently. However, they are ranked worse than having no mask at all. The porous fabric breaks the larger particles into smaller ones. And then these smaller particles remain in the air longer than large droplets. While research on these face coverings haven’t gone through  clinical trials, people are being advised to avoid wearing them at all.  

Check out this article from USA Today for a list of face coverings and details on the effectiveness of each. 

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