3 Mask Types And Why To Use Them During COVID-19

by Kroger Health Staff

Last Updated: July 2, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic has evolved, one thing has become clear: face masks are critical to slowing the spread of the virus. Throughout the pandemic masks have been recommended or required in the vast majority of U.S. states at one time or another. With the virus spreading primarily through moisture particles, studies show about 80% of transmission stems from those who exhibit no symptoms at all, making masks essential to limit the spread when an individual may not know they are infected. One study conducted by Texas A&M University found that approximately 66,000 infections of COVID-19 were prevented in New York City within a month, due to the implementation and use of masks. With strong evidence pointing to the importance of face coverings as states reopen phase by phase, we put together everything you need to know about three types of masks, how they work, and why you should continue wearing one.
  1. Surgical Masks
    You may be familiar with these official-looking lightweight face coverings from some of your favorite TV medical dramas, but don’t be mistaken about the effectiveness of this type of mask. Surgical masks are a great tool to shield others from large moisture particles released into the air by you sneezing or coughing. While most surgical masks are made from synthetic, non-woven material, they will not protect against smaller particles, and it is important to take further precautions if you are in a high-risk medical setting.
  2. Respirator Masks
    Respirator masks, which include the now recognizable N95 mask, fit very close to the face and filter airborne particles and pathogens through the tangled fibers that make up the mask. Some respirator masks have a built-in exhalation valve, which makes it easier for the wearer to breathe. In the case of the N95 mask, the number refers to the mask’s 95% efficiency in filtering air, which is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourage these masks are prioritized for healthcare workers and other medical first responders. For full protection, these masks must be “fit tested” to assure the mask conforms to the face of the wearer.
  3. Cloth Face Coverings
    With medical grade mask shortages a concern throughout the pandemic, most global health organizations recommend the use of cloth face coverings for the general public. Although thorough research is minimal, some studies have suggested that cloth masks are only 15% less effective than surgical masks, and 500% more effective than not wearing a mask at all. Similarly to the efficiency of the tangled fiber makeup of respirator masks, specific fabrics including cotton, silk, chiffon, flannel, and other synthetics are more effective than other fabrics for filtering pathogens. Cloth face coverings are also cost effective – find out how to make your own in three easy steps.

As the world slowly reopens and returns to a sense of new normalcy, it is more important than ever for everyone to continue to do their part to stop the spread of the virus by utilizing face coverings when in public.

Disclaimer: The information in this story is accurate as of its publication. However, the situation surrounding COVID-19 is ever-evolving. We are working to keep our stories up-to-date as changes occur, but we also encourage everyone to check news and recommendations from the CDC, WHO, and their local authorities.