Clearing up COVID-19 confusion, part 3: Masks

January 19, 2022 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Life

As SARS-CoV-2 has evolved in its ability to infect others, the level of protection afforded by masks has taken on greater importance.

There is now increased availability of higher quality masks that provide protection needed against the respiratory virus.

The latest virus variant, omicron, has proven to be the most contagious version. So contagious that the CDC has recommended people wear the most protective mask they can find.

What mask should you wear now?

Masks are made to contain droplets and particles you breathe, cough or sneeze out. If they fit closely to the face, they can also provide you some protection from particles spread by others, including the virus that causes COVID-19.

Respirators are made to protect you by filtering the air and fitting closely on the face to filter out particles, including the virus that causes COVID-19. They can also contain droplets and particles you breathe, cough or sneeze out so you don’t spread them to others.

N95s and KN95s have a better seal around the nose and mouth and are better at filtering out particles than the surgical or cloth masks. If you can wear an N95 mask all day when around others, it’s the more protective option.

When choosing a mask, look at how well it fits. Gaps can let air with respiratory droplets leak in and out around the edges of the mask. Gaps can be caused by choosing the wrong size or type of mask and when a mask is worn with facial hair.

It is important to check that it fits snugly over your nose, mouth and chin.

  • Check for gaps by cupping your hands around the outside edges of the mask.
  • Make sure no air is flowing from the area near your eyes or from the sides of the mask.
  • If the mask has a good fit, you will feel warm air come through the front of the mask and may be able to see the mask material move in and out with each breath.

If you choose a cloth mask, make sure there are several layers of tightly woven breathable fabric. Procedure/surgical masks provide better protection, but make sure there are no gaps around the sides of the face or nose. Fit can be improved by wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask (double mask) or with a mask tightener.

Respirators (KN95 and N95) provide a higher level of protection. If you use a KN95, make sure it meets the standards and is National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) approved.

For more information, visit our COVID-19 information hub.

Note: The risk of developing infection is much higher if you are not up to date with all COVID-19 vaccines (have not received a booster if eligible) and even higher if you are unvaccinated.

Edward-Elmhurst Health has COVID-19 vaccine appointments available to ages 5 and older, including booster doses for ages 12 and older. It is easy to schedule a vaccine appointment. You do not need a MyChart account. Schedule your COVID-19 vaccine now.

The information in this article may change at any time due to the changing landscape of this pandemic. Read more about COVID-19.

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