Updated: Aug 3, 2020
Antiviral face masks
Along with other protective measures, such as social or physical distancing and proper hand hygiene, face masks are an easy, inexpensive, and potentially effective way to stay safe and flatten the COVID-19 curve.
Health agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), now encourage all people to wear masks or face coverings when out in public.
So, which type of face mask works best for avoiding transmission of the new coronavirus when you’re out in public?
The largest amount of viral shedding, or transmission, happens early in the course of the disease. Therefore, people may be contagious before they even start to show symptoms.
What types of face masks work best?
FFP2 vs FFP3
The diameter of the coronavirus is estimated to be 125 nanometers (nm). Keeping this in mind, it’s helpful to know that:
FFP2 masks filter out a minimum of 95% of these particles.
FFP3 masks can filter out 99% of these particles.
Valved respirators allow exhaled air to get out, making it easier for the user to breathe. However, the downside of this is that other people are susceptible to the particles and pathogens that are exhaled through these valves.
There are various types of surgical masks. Typically, these disposable, single-use masks are cut into a rectangle shape with pleats that expand to cover your nose, mouth, and jawline. They are composed of breathable synthetic fabric.
Unlike respirators, surgical face masks don’t have to meet NIOSH filtration standards. They aren’t required to form an airtight seal against the area of your face that they cover.
Do-it-yourself (DIY) cloth masks are less effective at protecting the wearer because most have gaps near the nose, cheeks, and jaw where tiny droplets can be inhaled. Also, the fabric is often porous and can’t keep out tiny droplets.
When is it important to wear a mask?
It is recommended to wear cloth face masks in public settings where compliance with physical distancing measures may be difficult to achieve and maintain. This is key in areas where community-based transmission is high.
This includes, but is not limited to, settings such as:
hospitals and other healthcare settings
job sites, especially if physical distancing measures aren’t feasible
The bottom line
In addition to physical distancing and using proper hand hygiene, many health experts consider the use of face masks to be a key measure in helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Although homemade cloth masks aren’t as effective at filtering out small particles as respirators or surgical masks, they offer more protection than not wearing any face mask at all.
As people return to work, continued use of appropriate face masks might help mitigate an increase in virus transmission.