As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, healthcare officials have poured more and more research into solutions, both short and long term. The long term solution is a vaccine, while short term solutions include social distancing, increased sanitation, and wearing face masks.
Where social distancing and sanitation are not possible or are too difficult, people should wear a face mask to protect others. But not all face masks are effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19. In this post, I will go over the research behind face masks and which ones work best.
Stopping The Spread Starts With You
At the end of this pandemic, we will all have so much medical terminology memorized we may as well get a degree. On a serious note, understanding the way COVID-19 spreads will help us stop it from spreading so rapidly. More and more research shows that the virus spreads through the air in the form of microscopic droplets. These droplets, when not stopped, can travel in the air for a limited amount of time, depending on the environment.
In other words if you are inside, the virus can float in the air for a bit before landing on a surface. So, what can prevent these droplets from floating around in the air? Well, face masks, of course.
Face Mask Ranked By Effectiveness
Although we are months into the pandemic, there is still no national face mask mandate. However each state has their own rules, and even some chain companies have implemented their own. Before heading into a public space, consult the list below.
Most Effective: N95 and N99
The N95 mask is the one that healthcare workers wear, and at the start of the pandemic there was a major shortage. These face masks are very effective, however, they should be reserved for front-line workers. The N99 mask is anywhere from 94%-99% effective while the N95 is at a minimum 95% effective.
Disposable Surgical Mask
Another popular and effective option for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 is a disposable surgical mask. Similar to the N95 and N99, this mask is quite effective and in short supply. So please leave these for medical workers if you can. Additionally, these masks are disposable but may be reused after a 7 day period. Simply store them in a sealed plastic bag and mark the day they were used so you know when it’s been a week.
Homemade or Cloth Mask
Likely the most popular option at this point are store bought cloth masks or homemade ones. Once word got around that the N95 and surgical masks were running short, people began looking into creating their own. Although it would be difficult to say exactly how effective your store bought or homemade face mask is, non-peer reviewed research has shown them to be effective. If you want to create your own mask, check out this helpful guide.
Least Effective: Scarfs, Neck Fleeces, Bandannas
A recent study found that neck fleeces, bandannas, and scarfs are dangerously ineffective at stopping air droplets. In fact multiple sources have verified that neck fleeces in particular actually make things worse. According to researchers, neck fleeces make those tiny air droplets even smaller, and therefore they can stay in the air longer. Scarves and bandannas on the other hand do little to filter air droplets making them less effective than the above options.
At the end of the day, whether you use an N95 mask or a bandanna, wearing one can help us. I would say wearing anything is better than nothing, but research has shown otherwise on neck fleeces. Still, the easiest way for all of us to get through these tough times is to mask-up.