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N95 Respirators, Surgical Masks and Cloth Face Coverings

Posted by Claire Hart on 6/4/20 2:19 PM
Claire Hart

face mask 1

N95 respirators, surgical masks, and cloth face coverings all help prevent the spread of coronavirus- but what exactly makes them different? Why are some more protective than others and which one should you wear? Here's what you need to know:


N95 Respirators

N(%

  • What is it? A respiratory protective device designed to achieve a close facial fit and efficient filtration of airborne particles.
  • Regulated? Yes, by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
  • Who wears it? Healthcare workers and other medical first responders.
  • How does it work? Protects the wearer from airborne particles and from liquid contaminating the face.
  • How protective is it? The 'N95' designation means that when subjected to careful testing, the respirator blocks at least 95 percent of very small (0.3 micron) test particles, making it the more protective than surgical masks and face coverings.
  • Disposal? All FDA-cleared N95 respirators are labeled as "single-use," disposable devices. If your respirator is damaged or soiled, or if breathing becomes difficult, you should remove the respirator, discard it properly, and replace it with a new one.
  • Recommended for the public? No. They are in serious shortage even for medical professionals, who are are most in need of the strongest protection against the virus.

Differences between N95's, Surgical Masks and Face Coverings


Surgical Masks (or face masks)

 
 
surgical mask
 

  • What is it? A loose-fitting, disposable protective device that creates a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer and potential contaminants.
  • Regulated? Yes, by the FDA.
  • Who wears it? Healthcare workers and other medical first responders.
  • How does it work? Helps block large-particle droplets, splashes, sprays, or splatter that may contain germs, keeping it from reaching your mouth and nose.
  • How protective is it? While a surgical mask may be effective in blocking large-particle droplets, a face mask, by design, does not filter or block very small particles in the air that may be transmitted by coughs, sneezes, or certain medical procedures. Surgical masks also do not provide complete protection from germs and other contaminants because of the loose fit between the surface of the face mask and your face.
  • Disposal? Not intended to be used more than once. If your mask is damaged or soiled, or if breathing through the mask becomes difficult, you should remove the face mask, discard it safely, and replace it with a new one.
  • Recommended for the public? No. They are in serious shortage even for medical professionals, who are are most in need of the strongest protection against the virus.
    Surgical Masks vs. N95 Respirators

Cloth Face Coverings

face-masks-or-coverings

  • What is it? A loose-fitting, reusable mask usually made out of household fabric.
  • Regulated? No.
  • Who wears it? The general public- except for children under 2 years old, anyone who has trouble breathing, or anyone who is unable to remove the covering without help.
  • How does it work? Protects others by reducing the amount of respiratory droplets expelled by a person who may be infected but not showing signs of illness. 
  • How protective is it? Not as protective as the N95 and surgical mask, and does not protect the wearer. However, if everyone wears a cloth face covering when out in public the risk of exposure to COVID-19 can be reduced for the community.
  • Disposal? Can be reused as long as they are regularly laundered and machine dried.
  • Recommended for the public? Yes.

Cloth Face Covering Do's & Don'ts


It's critical to emphasize that social distancing, washing your hands often, and avoiding touching your face remains just as important to slowing the spread of the virus. Wearing a cloth face covering is simply an extra measure of precaution you should take. And remember- leave the N95's and surgical masks to the medical professionals, as they're in short supply.

Topics: employee wellness, COVID-19

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