Masks & Disposable 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 public spaces where social distancing is difficult. These masks are not the same as N95 Respirators or Surgical Masks - these are critical health supplies that should be reserved for healthcare professionals. 

US FFR Regulatory Standards & Foreign Equivalents

The FDA has authorized use of foreign equivalent FFRs with the exception of the KN95 from China.

  • N95 (United States NIOSH-42CFR84) 
  • FFP2 (Europe EN 149-2001) 
  • PFF3, PFF2 (Brazil ABNT/NBR 13698:2011)
  • P2, P3 (Australia/New Zealand AS/NZA 1716:2012) 
  • Korea 1st class (Korea KMOEL - 2017-64) 
  • DS (Japan JMHLW-Notification 214, 2018)
  • N100, P100, R100, N99, P99, R99, N95, P95, R95 (Mexico NOM-116)

Authorization of Foreign FFRs and Decontaminated Respirators

Filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs) are also referred to as disposable respirators. FFRs are subejct to regional regulations and standards requiring certain physical attributes and capabilities to achieve compliance with the relative standards. On March 24th, 2020, the FDA determined that the current national health emergency and shortage of FFRs mandated the authorization of use for non-NIOSH approved FFRs, as well as the use of respirators that have been decontaminated properly. 

3M Guidance on Respirator Sterilization

Respirators are used to filter out infectious, airborne particulates. It is standard practice to prevent infection to only use respirators one time after using in the presence of an infected person. While 3M does not recommend attempting to sanitize and reuse a facepiece respirator, in the wake of the global pandemic and potential respirator shortages, 3M has issued this document to provide information on potential respirator disinfection methods. 

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.


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.