For the longest time, protective health gear included wearing surgical masks to prevent transmission of the COVID-19 virus. Today, many sectors still have the mandate to wear protective health gear in the workplace, depending on the sector. As we learn to live with this virus, restrictions are being lifted. However, protective health gear is taking on a different form.
Those in healthcare who deal with patients daily are still required to wear protective health gear to avoid spreading not only COVID-19 but other illnesses as well.
Protective health gear largely involves wearing either the nonsurgical N95 masks, which offer the most protection, or the KN95s/medical masks, which have the second-best layer of protection. People still wear these in areas that contain large numbers of people with the virus, such as in hospitals or nursing homes.
The CDC recommends wearing a well-fitted mask indoors or in public, whether you are vaccinated or not. The definition of well-fitted is that the mask must fit tightly around the mouth and nose area. While surgical masks were deemed effective initially at decreasing the spread of illness, they became ineffective after a while at preventing certain strains.
Why? Because masks that do not fit snugly around the mouth and nose allow airborne viruses to get through. People are discouraged from wearing cloth masks, and the recommendation is that healthcare providers wear surgical N95 masks.
Additionally, those with weakened immune systems or with a higher risk of developing a serious illness should still wear masks that provide the most protection when in an area with a high number of infected people.
How Do the Masks Work?
You can wear several types of masks. Originally, it was to prevent yourself and others from getting the COVID-19 virus, but it has now become good practice. These masks decrease the transmission of COVID and many other viruses, like colds and flu.
Both illnesses target elderly, at-risk populations whose immune systems cannot fend off attacks as easily. It keeps everyone healthy and helps those most at risk.
Also known as a surgical mask, this type of mask is loose-fitting and disposable. They protect the wearer from encountering sprays or droplets containing germs. They filter large particles being transmitted in the air when people inhale.
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To make these masks more form-fitting, knot your ear loops where they are attached to the face mask. Tuck and fold the excess material underneath the edges of a surgical mask for added protection. Please note that wearing this mask does not increase carbon dioxide levels in the air.
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This mask is considered a respirator. It meets a set number of international standards for protection. A KN95 mask provides more protection than a medical mask since it filters both small and large particles in the air.
This respirator mask meets United States mask quality standards. It has the highest level of protection available as it filters small and large particles when someone exhales and the wearer inhales. Non-surgical N95 masks can be obtained and used by the public.
However, the CDC has requested surgical N95 masks only be worn by those in health care. Health care providers must be trained on how to wear them properly and be fitted for the right size before using this mask type. Like surgical masks, they are disposable, but researchers are looking into ways of disinfecting the masks and reusing them.
These masks are also common in areas with fine dust particles floating in the air. It acts as a protective barrier for the lungs.
Some of these masks have valves, making them easier to breathe through. Regrettably, they do not filter air when people exhale, so they are banned in some locations.
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The intent behind a cloth mask is to trap the respiratory droplets released when someone speaks, sneezes, or coughs. It provides a barrier of protection from people inhaling infected droplets if someone else breathes them out.
To be effective, they should have multiple layers of tightly woven cotton. Layered masks can prevent more droplets from getting through the mask or from escaping.
Obtaining the Best Protection
You can improve the effectiveness of wearing a mask by making sure they are well-fitted to facial contours. This prevents any leakage of air around the edges. They need to fit snugly around the mouth, chin, and nose without any gaps. You should feel warm air coming through the mask’s front when you exhale, and you should feel no air under the mask’s edges.
Masks should have a bendable nose strip to prevent air from escaping out the top of the mask.
As noted, multiple layers offer better protection. Some choose to wear medical masks under cloth ones. If you do so, a cloth mask should press on the edges of your medical mask against your face. Do not add so many layers that it becomes difficult to breathe or your vision is blocked. Refrain from double masking with KN95 or N95 masks.
A KN95 and N95 should seal and fit close to the face. Additionally, storage, cleaning, and proper use will determine how well you are protected. Here are some good practices to follow regarding masking:
- Be sure the mask covers your nose, mouth, and chin.
- Sanitize and wash your hands before putting on a mask.
- Tie the loops behind your head or use the ear loops. The mask needs to be snug against your face.
- Refrain from touching your mask when wearing it. If you do touch it, sanitize or wash your hands.
- Swap your mask for a fresh one whenever it becomes wet or dirty. Place used masks in a sealed bag until you can dispose of them.
- Remove your mask by lifting off the ear loops while avoiding facial contact. Fold the outside corners together.
- Wash your hands immediately after removal.
- Wash your cloth masks regularly by hand or in a washing machine. Dry in a dryer or in the sun.
- Throw away disposable masks after one use.
The CDC doesn’t recommend using face shields over masks. They are unsure how much protection they give. If you need to use one, ensure it wraps around the sides of your face and goes below your chin.
Initially, masks were commonly worn by surgeons, but with the surge in COVID cases, it became mandatory in several workplaces where people were in regular contact with a large group of people. Some restrictions have been lifted, but people in some sectors are still required to wear them to protect those most at risk.