Masks, Face Coverings, & Respirators

CDC Guidance on Cloth Face Coverings

The use of cloth face coverings can be used to slow the spread of diseases, like COVID-19. These coverings should:

  • Be snug, but fit comfortably on the face
  • Use ties or ear loops to secure them
  • Include multiple layers of fabric
  • Allow for breathing without restriction
  • Be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape

Per CDC recommendations, these face coverings should be worn in all public settings, especially those where physical distancing practices cannot be maintained

These masks are not the same as N95 Respirators or Surgical Masks - these are critical health supplies that should be reserved for healthcare professionals. 

Does a cloth face mask actually protect you from COVID-19?

When a person coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice, they release respiratory droplets. Cloth face coverings provide a simple barrier to assist in stopping a person's respiratory droplets from traveling through the air and potentially onto others.

From studying COVID-19, the CDC has determined that respiratory droplets play a major role in the spread of the virus. Clinical and laboratory studies have confirmed that cloth face masks lessen the spray of these droplets when worn both over the nose and mouth.

COVID-19 can be spread by asymptomatic people. This is why social distancing and wearing face coverings is vital in slowing the spread of the virus. It is called source control. If everyone wears masks/face coverings, even those who are asymptomatic will not be able to spray their respiratory droplets. 

Cloth Face Coverings Should Be Worn By:

  • General Public
    • The CDC recommends all people older than 2 years old should wear a face covering in public.
  • People with confirmed cases or anyone who thinks they might have COVID-19
    • If you have contracted COVID-19, stay away from public places and stay home except for medical care. If you must encounter other people or animals, wear a mask or face covering.
  • Caregivers of COVID-19 patients

Do not place cloth face coverings on anyone:

  • Under the age of 2 years old
  • That has difficulty breathing or is unconscious
  • Who is incapacitated or incapable of removing the face covering without assistance

Surgical & respirator masks are needed by healthcare workers where they are used in conjunction with other protective equipment. The best ways to prevent infection are washing your hands and social distancing. The CDC now recommends using face coverings in public to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Surgical Masks

Surgical masks are small pieces of material used to keep the germs from an infected person's coughs or sneezes from spreading. Surgical masks do not prevent the inhalation of small airborne contaminants, as it is a physical barrier to prevent larger amounts of fluid from entering the wearer's mouth or nose.

Respirators

Unlike surgical masks, respirators are designed to reduce the wearer's exposure to airborne contaminants. Respirators are designed to be sturdier than surgical masks. N-95 and N-99 respirator masks should prevent 95% and 99%, respectively, of particulates from entering someone's mouth or nose. 

Surgical Masks

  • Used as a physical barrier to protect user from large droplets of blood or bodily fluids
  • Protect others from the wearer's infections - trap bodily fluids expelled by the wearer
  • Worn by healthcare workers to prevent accidental contamination of patients by organisms present in mucus and saliva
  • Can help keep contaminated fingers away from the mouth and nose. 
  • Not designed to seal tightly against the user's face
  • Not designed to prevent the inhalation of small airborne contaminants - contaminated air can pass through gaps between the face and mask or be pulled through the mask's material. 
  • Cannot be relied upon to protect workers from airborne infections

Respirator Masks

  • Offer the best protection for workers that come in contact or close (< 6 feet) to those with influenza-like symptoms
  • With a properly sealed respirator mask, inhaled air is forced to travel through a respirator's filtering material, blocking much smaller particlulates than a surgical mask
  • Can protect the wearer from influenza and other common respiratory infections as well as other airborne illnesses like measles, chickenpox, or tuberculosis
  • Are designed to create a tight seal on the wearers face, so must be properly sized for the wearer
  • Are designed to prevent the inhalation of airborne infectious particulates
  • Provide a higher level of protection than a surgical mask when worn properly

N95 Respirator Masks

N95 Respirator Masks filter out up to 95 percent of airborne particulates. The best options for N95 respirator masks will have two valves dedicated to the movement of air and moisture in and out of the respirator.

N99 Respirator Masks

N99 Respirator Masks filter out up to 99 percent of airborne particulates. They have a higher filtration rate than N95 masks.