There is an unprecedented need for the strict usage of face masks everywhere due to the current pandemic.
COVID-19 spreads through close contact with an infected person— which may lead to exposure and contamination by possible disease-carrying respiratory secretions through a variety of ways.
Face masks, along with frequent hand washing and social distancing, are the primary, first-line defense against the rampant transmission of this disease.
However, not all masks are created equal. Amongst the many emerging types of face masks that promise the public with absolute protection and topmost breathability, we refer to the scientific process to determine which face mask is best to combat COVID-19.
The Importance of Face Masks
Face masks ensure that the entrances to our respiratory system (the nose and mouth) are securely covered. This significantly lessens our chances of acquiring not only the deadly Coronavirus but other airborne or viral infections as well.
Most importantly, face masks filter our own respiratory secretions to keep it from reaching the environment where it may contaminate another person.
Face masks are highly effective precisely because they keep any harmful viral contaminants of the environment from coming into contact with our respiratory system; and any internal contaminants from also escaping, preventing further contamination.
There exists a lot of anecdotal evidence that prove the effectiveness of masks. Regions and countries that have a higher adherence rate to the usage of masks have tallied lower rates of infection.
Any event or circumstance that has catalyzed widespread transmission is characterized by the failure of wearing masks, and events that could have been disastrous (such as crowded gatherings) have been safely prevented with strict mask-wearing protocols.
The Center for Disease Control and World Health Organization emphasizes the wearing of masks above all other measures as the “key measure to suppress the spread of COVID-19 and save lives.”
Although donning of face masks for long periods of time is not the most comfortable experience, there is absolutely no ounce of truth in claims that face masks may cause CO2 intoxication and oxygen deficiency. Breathability studies have extensively shown that face masks do not cause any sort of air blockage in our respiratory pathways. The general inconvenience or irritability is more personal than scientific.
With the stated importance of face masks, it is then of utmost importance to choose the correct type of face masks which truly provides maximum protection and breathability.
Choosing the Best Type of Face Mask For COVID-19
We refer to the research and analysis conducted at Duke University by Dr. Eric Westman and his colleague Dr. Westman is an associate professor of medicine at Duke University.
Their research team analyzed 14 types of face masks, including the medical grade masks such as KN95, N95, and Surgical Masks, and other cloth fabric masks available on the market. The test aimed to determine how much biological splatter would pass through the mask from the wearer to the environment.
The following is the result, from best to worst:
- KN95 Masks / N95 Masks with no exhalation valve
KN95 masks are tight-fitted, medical-grade, respirator masks which have a four-layer filtration system that filter against 95% of all air contaminants including the Coronavirus, germs, bacteria, nasal allergic triggers, smoke, ash, pollution, pollen, dust, and PM 2.5.
The outer layers of an N95 Mask are made up of a high quality non-woven fabric while the inner filtration layers are made up of electrostatic fabric filter and meltblown activated carbon filter. The outermost layers absorb moisture and the innermost layer stores the residue to prevent pathogenic microorganisms from coming in, while keeping the wearer from expelling biological secretions to the environment. The electrostatic fabric filter blocks 95% of all air particulates that measure up to 0.3 microns. The inner meltblown activated carbon filter reinforces the filtration efficiency for minute particulates including pollen, gases and even PM2.5 fine particles.
During the test, N95 masks left only 0.1% splatter, proving its efficiency to be at 99%. N95 Masks are prescribed for use for medical frontline workers.
It is highly recommended to have N95 Masks in the workplace to ensure maximum protection against any sort of respiratory infection while maintaining optimum productivity
- Surgical Masks
Surgical masks are medical grade masks equipped with three layers of high quality non-woven fabric to effectively prevent the wearer from expelling viruses, blood spatters, and other respiratory secretions to the environment. Surgical masks also filter air for comfortable respiration in the midst of toxic chemicals.
The innermost layer of the surgical mask is made up of an ultra-fine soft fiber, while the outer layer is a non-woven fabric material. The inner layer retains the moisture expelled by the wearer, while the outermost layer absorbs moisture coming from the environment. The middle layer, made up of melt-blown electrostatic micro filter, prevents any air particulates from passing through.
The test showed upwards of 95% particulate retention rate, which means only 5% of the speaker’s expellant came through. This proves to be an effective rate for everyday protection, especially when interacting in public places.
- Cotton-polypropylene Mask
This makes up most fabric cloth masks available in the market that has space for a filter in the form of polypropylene. Polypropylene fiber is a type of commercial plastic deemed one of the safest for human use. It has good barrier properties, high weldability, and resistance.
The results show it is almost as good as a surgical mask, so this will also be effective for everyday uses in non-densely crowded areas.
These are the following rankings of other cloth masks available in the market.
- Two-layer polypropylene apron mask
- Swath of polypropylene mask material
- Two-layer pleated cotton mask
- Two-layer pleated cotton mask
- N95 mask with exhalation valve
- Two-layer “Olson style” cotton mask
- One-layer Maxima AT (air textured) mask
- One-layer pleated cotton mask
- Two-layer pleated cotton mas
- Knitted mask
- Double-layer bandana
- No mask
- Gaiter-type neck fleece
Based on these rankings, medical grade masks still rank as the best mask for protection against COVID-19.
KN95, N95, and surgical masks provide utmost breathability while securing maximum protection to ensure no viral contaminants containing the deadly COVID-19 virus can infiltrate the respiratory system.