PPE: Understanding Different Types of Masks Explained
Unless you’re a medical professional, you probably didn’t think too much about Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and face masks until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. By now, you will have been bombarded with information about PPE and masks, and you may find some of it confusing. To help you navigate the path to safe mask use during this difficult time, we have created this guide to explain different types of masks and what their uses are.
Choosing the Best Coronavirus Mask
Wearing a mask is crucial for helping to slow the spread of the virus, particularly when you are in public places. Knowing which mask to wear to provide the best safety is equally important.
Types of COVID-19 Mask
Whichever mask you decide to wear, for it to be effective, it must fit snugly against your face and cover both your nose and mouth.
Cloth Face Masks
PPE cloth masks have ear loops or head ties so that when worn they fit against your face providing a complete barrier between your mouth and nose and the air beyond. The thicker the mask is, the greater the protection it offers. Some masks are made of tightly-woven material that helps block virus droplets from reaching your mouth and nose when you breathe. Others are made from several combined layers of fabric to create a strong barrier.
You can make your own cloth masks at home quite easily by hand or with a sewing machine. Cotton fabrics are recommended because they are tightly woven. They also make it easier to breathe if you are wearing your mask on a hot day or while you are exercising. To increase the protection factor of your home-made mask, you can also place a filter between the layers of fabric. You can find out more about ways to make a mask here.
You should wash your reusable mask regularly. You can include it with your normal laundry. Use the detergent you typically use and wash on the hottest water setting. Use the highest dryer setting and don’t remove your mask from the drier until it is completely dry.
Surgical Face Masks
PPE surgical face masks can be bought online or at most pharmacies. They are disposable face covers that can be worn one time only. They cannot be washed or reused. Surgical masks are often used by medical professionals during procedures such as surgery. Typically, they are made from a combination of plastics and paper and are light blue.
Surgical masks are specially designed to protect your nose and mouth from large droplets of respiratory fluid. However, they are not designed to protect you from finer droplets. If you are carrying the coronavirus, surgical masks can help prevent you from spreading the virus to others.
N95 Professional Grade Masks
PPE N95 Respirators are sized so that they make a tight seal over your mouth and nose, protecting it from the air outside. They are designed to protect healthcare workers from airborne droplets, but they are available to the general public during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To get the maximum effect from an N95 respirator you should get it professionally fitted. This service is available to healthcare workers, but not to the general public. N95 masks are tested and certified to meet the regulations for respiratory protective devices as laid out in 42 CFR 84.
Tips for Removing Your Mask
You should follow these steps to remove your mask safely:
- Carefully stretch the elastic ear loops or untie the strings behind your head.
- Do not touch any other part of the mask other than the ties or ear loops.
- If it is a cloth or disposable mask, fold the corners together from the outside.
- Avoid touching any part of your face when removing.
- Wash your hands immediately after you have removed your mask.
PPE Face Shields
A PPE face shield is a type of full face mask. Shields are made from clear sheets of plastic that are attached to a headband. They completely cover the face from your forehead to just past your chin. Healthcare professionals use this type of PPE face covering to protect them from body fluid splatter when performing procedures.
If you are not a healthcare worker and you are wearing mask protection as you should, and maintaining six feet of social distance, you should not need to wear a face shield. However, you may feel more comfortable wearing a face shield over your mask to provide extra protection if you must be close to other people. Wearing a shield without a mask will not provide you with the same protection as a mask because a shield does not provide a complete barrier to respiratory droplets because they are open at the bottom.
Corona Virus Mask Filters
Some PPE face masks have a pocket between their layers where you can place a filter, or you may choose to make your own mask this way. The only coronavirus mask that includes a professional-grade filter is the N95 mask.
It has been suggested online and social media that you may use such items as vacuum cleaner bags, coffee filters, and HVAC filters to add protection to your cloth mask. However, this is anecdotal and there is no evidence to support the effectiveness of these items for filtering out infectious respiratory droplets. Appropriate filters can be purchased online.
Which is the Best PPE Coronavirus Face Mask?
If you are not a healthcare worker and you wish to minimize the spread of the coronavirus while keeping yourself safe in public, the best type of PPE mask is a cloth mask. Here’s why:
- You can purchase them easily or make them at home
- They can be used repeatedly if washed regularly
- You are not at risk of buying ineffective masks
- They are not in high demand by health professionals
Remember to use your face mask every time you are out in public, take care of it properly and discard disposable masks safely.