With new strains of coronavirus spreading throughout the world, you may need a mask upgrade. Read on for our guide on how to properly wear a face mask, and which ones to buy to stay protected.
As the coronavirus continues to spread, it's crucial that we take precautions to prevent and slow down further transmission as much as possible. Face masks play a critical role in delaying the spread in that they block particles of saliva that may escape the mouth and nose. While masks can protect others around you by keeping those particles out of the air, they also protect you from droplets in the air nearby from reaching your nose and mouth.
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"Doubling up" on Masks and How to Wear Them
While N95 masks are possibly the most protective masks (blocking at least 95% of small airborne particles, as small as three-tenths of a micron in diameter), surgical masks can still offer protection. With N95s in short supply and new coronavirus variants proving more contagious than previous strains, some experts have recommended doubling up on masks - particularly if you are opting for a cloth or surgical mask.
"If you combine multiple layers, you start achieving pretty high efficiencies of blocking viruses from exiting and entering the airway" says Linsey Marr, a virus transmission expert at Virginia Tech.
Surgical masks block fewer of the tiny particles that can remain suspended in the air (for up to 3 hours when aerosolized, according to Harvard Health), but can offer a decent level of protection - more so than single layer cloth masks, particularly when layered. But when you layer a cloth mask on top of a surgical mask, that might just be the best option if you don't have access to an N95. The cloth mask not only improves the fit of your surgical mask by clinging it to your face to form a seal, but the surgical mask underneath also acts as an additional filter, repelling any infectious particles that might be lingering in the air around you.
All of this is for nothing though, if you don't wear your mask properly. According to the CDC, masks should cover both the nose and the mouth and fit securely under the chin. We've all seen that one person with a mask hanging under their nose - this can be particularly dangerous and totally defeat the purpose of wearing a mask as the nose is the most vulnerable part of the body to COVID-19 infection.
"In April, an international team of researchers determined that the nose is a key entry point for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Their work, which was published in the journal Nature Medicine, explained that nasal cells in particular contain high levels of the proteins that SARS-CoV-2 attaches to in order to enter the body. The proteins are called ACE2 and TMPRSS2."
Which masks are most effective, and which should I buy?
N95 masks create a seal around the nose and mouth, blocking at least 95% of small airborne particles when worn correctly. Made out of several layers of polypropylene, N95 respirators use the power of static electricity to block both internal and external particles. Since N95s are in short supply, it might be hard to get your hands on one- but make sure to watch out for fakes. Here's a guide from the CDC on how to spot counterfeit N95 respirators.
Although N95 respirator masks are more efficient at capturing airborne particles, KN95s can still offer effective protection. Like the N95 respirator masks, KN95s are supposed to filter out at least 95% of small airborne particles.
Shop our KN95 selection here.
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When it comes to shopping for cloth masks, there a few tips to bear in mind for ensuring proper fit and efficacy.
1. Do the weave test. Tightness of weave is crucial when it comes to cloth masks. Try holding yours up to the light - if you can see through it, it's probably not going to filter out particles very well.
"Researchers say a tight-weave 100% cotton is a good bet. That's because at the microscopic level, the natural fibers in cotton tend to have more three-dimensional structure than synthetic fibers, which are smoother" says Christopher Zangmeister, researcher at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. This means that you have more material that can help stop an incoming particle in its tracks.
"Take two sheets of facial tissue, fold them over and put them inside your mask's pocket so that you end up with a four-layer filter that you can change out daily. 'Surprisingly, the four layers of paper gives you adequate protection,' says Chu (May Chu, epidemiologist at the Colorado School of Public Health)".
3. Shape matters. The best masks hug closely to your face. Look for a mask that offers an adjustable nose wire and ear straps, like this one here or one that offers pleats. Pleats are effective because they allow air to flow through the fabric itself, rather than leaking out of the sides and leaving room for unwanted particles to get in.
Surgical masks are designed to protect others from the wearer. It's great for blocking large droplets in the air, although it's not the best option for filtering out tiny airborne particles. Typically made of paper or polypropylene, research suggests that surgical masks can block the vast majority of large droplets emitted by an infected person, but doesn't necessarily protect the wearer very well. Those results can vary widely, blocking as little as only 30% of small airborne particles in contrast to their thicker counterparts, like KN95 and N95 masks.
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Do I need to layer masks all the time? In what situations should I be doubling up on masks?
You might want to consider layering up whenever you need to spend time indoors in places other than your own home - particularly if you're at high risk for COVID-19. Some situations include grocery stores and doctor's offices.
Getting some fresh air? You probably don't need to pile up on the masks if you're outside, where transmission is less likely.
What materials should I look for when purchasing a mask?
Consider doubling up. Certain materials prove more effective than others. According to Popular Science, the best current recommendation is to combine one surgical mask with a cloth mask - improving fit with a cloth mask on top while adding an extra layer of filtration with the surgical mask underneath.
Polypropylene. Look for masks made out of polypropylene, which actually repel virus particles electrostatically. Derived from plastic, polypropylene "is great as a physical filter but has another benefit: It hold an electrostatic charge. In other words, it uses the power of static electricity. Think of the static cling that can happen when you rub two pieces of fabric together. That's basically what's happening with this fabric."
We hope this guide helps you on your search for the perfect mask. Know of any tips for staying safe during the coronavirus pandemic? We want to hear your thoughts! Share with us in the comments section below.
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