The Difference Between Masks

Coronavirus (Covid-19) has quickly become one of the most significant medical events in recent human history, with cases in the United States recently passing 4 million. 

The virus spreads via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs. To help fight this outbreak, medical experts at the CDC “recommend that people wear cloth face coverings in public settings … especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”

Because of this, it’s more important than ever to stay informed about which face masks work, which don’t, and why we wear them in the first place. It’s important to remember that “a cloth face covering may not protect the wearer, but it may keep the wearer from spreading the virus to others.”

Types of Facemasks

Handmade/ DIY Facemasks

Many people are trying to do their part by wearing handmade masks made from t-shirts, scarfs, socks, etc. 

There’s a litany of fun Youtube and TikTok videos demonstrating inventive ways to transform household clothing materials into a lifesaving mask. My favorite is this one, which shows how easy it is to turn any Nike tube sock into a mask:

In a study done by The National Center for Biotechnology Information, they found that DIY masks “significantly reduced the number of microorganisms expelled” by those wearing them. 

However they also concluded that “surgical masks [are] 3 times more effective in blocking transmission” than handmade alternatives. 

The study recommends that “homemade masks should only be considered as a last resort to prevent droplet transmission,” but they are still better than no mask at all.

Surgical Masks

Surgical masks are the most common and accessible manufactured type of face mask. They’re what we know from TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy and House. 

Surgical masks are FDA approved to be “fluid resistant and provide the wearer protection against large droplets, splashes, or sprays of bodily or other hazardous fluids.” They are three times more effective at preventing your aerosols from contaminating the surrounding environment while also being lightweight and unobtrusive.

Due to the somewhat loose fit of these masks, however, The FDA warns that surgical masks “may not provide protection from fluids or may not filter particles, needed to protect against pathogens, such as viruses.”

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