How Face Masks Help Protect Against COVID-19 - ChemicalSafetyFacts.org
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It’s been more than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and although people are starting to get vaccinated, the virus continues to spread. Because of this, it’s still important for people to wear masks to protect themselves and others against the virus. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing a mask as one way to help slow the transmission of COVID-19.

Types of Face Masks

Surgical, N95 and cloth masks are the most common types of face masks.   

Surgical Masks

Also referred to as medical masks, surgical masks are loose-fitting disposable masks that protect the wearer’s nose and mouth from contact with droplets, splashes and sprays that may contain germs. Medical masks also filter out large particles in the air.

Medical masks also protect others by reducing exposure to the saliva and respiratory secretions of the mask wearer. These masks may provide some protection when N95 masks are not available.

Disposable medical masks can also be made of polystyrene, polycarbonate, polyethylene or polyester.

N95 Masks

N95 masks are a type of respirator and typically offer more protection than surgical masks because they can filter out large and small particles.

They are designed to block around 95 percent of very small particles and are made from a flexible non-woven polypropylene fiber.

Cloth Masks

Cloth masks can trap droplets released when the wearer talks, coughs or sneezes. These masks can help reduce the spread of COVID-19—especially when widely used by people in public settings. Placing a paper product like a paper towel or coffee filter between the fabric layers of your mask can add additional filtration (the paper product should be discarded after each use).   Additionally, the CDC suggests that people consider doubling up and wearing a disposable mask under a cloth mask for additional protection.

MIT Medical recommends that at a minimum, the weave of a face mask’s material should be tight enough to prevent individual fibers from being seen when the mask is held up to a light.

Mask Innovations

Scientist are currently working on developing a new type of mask that can help trap and destroy viruses. The innovation may be a reusable layer coated with a salt formula that will recrystallize as droplets on the mask dry, or a sticker-like product that can be added to face masks to interact with droplets and disrupt the virus’s structure.  

What Else Can You Do to Help Stop the Spread?

Additional precautions you can take to protect yourself and help stop the spread of COVID-19 include:

More Information about Face Masks

For more information about the science, history and the benefits of using face masks, visit these resources:

The science behind wearing a face mask and why it’s important (video)

Use Masks to Slow the Spread of COVID-19

Yes, wearing masks helps. Here’s why

The Forgotten Science behind Face Masks