Wearing a coronavirus mask is important to helping slow the spread of the virus and for protecting yourself if you are unvaccinated. It's also important to know what type of mask you should wear and when it's appropriate to wear them.

Types of Coronavirus Masks

There are a few different types of face masks that you can purchase to protect against coronavirus, and there are even more myths about face masks.

In order to protect yourself and others, learn what types of masks there are and when you should wear them.

All face masks must fit against the face and cover both the nose and mouth in order to be effective.

cloth mask

Cloth Mask

A cloth face mask fits against the face using either ear loops or ties around the head. Multiple layers of fabric create a barrier between your nose and mouth and the outside, helping contain any respiratory droplets that you may breathe out. The thicker the mask, the greater the barrier.

You can easily make your own cloth mask at home with or without a sewing machine using a wide variety of fabrics, though tightly woven fabrics like cotton are recommended. These kinds of fabrics can also be useful when wearing a mask in the heat or while exercising in a mask. To see approved ways to make a face cover, visit the CDC website.

Surgical mask

Surgical Mask

Surgical masks are disposable covers that are usually worn by medical professionals as personal protective equipment (PPE) during surgeries or other procedures. They often made of a combination of paper and plastics, and are commonly light blue in color.

Surgical masks are designed to protect against large respiratory droplets but don't protect against smaller droplets. They are effective for helping protect others around you if you are a carrier of the virus. While these masks are ideal for one-time usage, they also present a few challenges – namely that they can't be washed and reused like cloth masks.

N(% respirator

N95 or Professional-Grade Medical Mask

N95 respirators and other professional-grade medical masks are carefully sized to form a tight seal between the air outside and the face. They are designed to protect healthcare workers from droplets in the air.

Respirators are highly effective when professionally fitted. Healthcare workers who wear N95 masks undergo a detailed test of the mask's fit to ensure that it creates a full seal – a service currently unavailable to the general public.

Some reports have found that online sellers of "professional-grade masks" are actually selling ineffective counterfeits. N95s are currently considered an essential but scarce supply for healthcare workers. Avoid wearing these masks to conserve PPE.

Face Shield

Face Shield

Face shields are clear sheets of plastic that hang down from a headband, covering the face from the top of the head to below the chin. Before the pandemic, they were usually worn by health care workers performing procedures that were prone to body fluid splatter. For example, dental hygienists often wear face shields.

Members of the general public who keep six feet of distance from others and wear a face mask do not need a face shield. Face shields may be worn to provide an extra layer of protection when in sustained close proximity with others. However, they do not provide the same protection as a mask because they do not provide a barrier to respiratory droplets, which can come up under them.

Coronavirus Face Mask Filters

Some coronavirus masks come with space to include a filter, but are they actually effective? The only coronavirus face masks that include professional-grade filters are respirators like N95s, which should not be used by the general public. Learn more about mask myths.

Some people have suggested that folded coffee filters, vacuum cleaner bags, HVAC filters, and more can add additional protection to your mask. However, there is no evidence for this as of July 2020. Homemade filters can actually make it harder for you to breathe in the mask.

Instead of focusing on whether or not a mask has a filter, ensure that the mask is made from multiple layers of fabric, fits tightly on the face, and fully covers your nose and mouth.

Best Coronavirus Face Mask

For the average person who isn't working with patients in a healthcare setting, a cloth face covering is the best mask for coronavirus. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • They can easily be made using supplies at home or purchased.
  • They can be used repeatedly with regular washing between wears.
  • You are not at risk of purchasing counterfeit, ineffective masks.
  • They aren't a scarce resource needed by health care workers.

Masking is a critical part of coronavirus infection prevention, but always remember that the best protection against the virus is social distancing.

While face masks are important to use when you're in public spaces or when caring for someone who is sick, the best way to prevent the spread is to get vaccinated

Updated 5/17/2021

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