As the guidance for COVID-19 continues to shift and evolve, there’s a lot of talk about N95 face masks and the need for them. I want to clarify some information that some people may not fully understand. There are differences between an N95, surgical mask, and cloth face masks. Below there is a link to how to make your own and an info-graphic on the differences of these masks.
An N95 is a type of respirator that has been tested, evaluated, and approved by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The testing is designed to ensure the mask filters 95% of large and small particulates. It is tight fitting and needs to be adjusted properly to ensure minimal leakage around the edges when a user inhale. These were designed to protect workers from non-oil aerosols and droplets. They can be re-worn, although ideally discarded as frequently as practicable.
A surgical mask is cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They are not a respirator and do not have a tight fit. They allow air to leak around the edges when the user inhales. They do need to be properly worn per instructions to offer the best protection. These are designed to be fluid resistant and provide against large droplets or splashes from bodily fluids. These are also designed to be disposable or laundered in some cases. They offer protection for both the wearer and those around them.
A cloth face mask, homemade masks, bandannas, and other improvised coverings are not typically tested or approved. There isn’t much info on the efficiency or protection offered by these. However, they do offer protection. They do stop a certain level of droplets and some aerosols from entering your respiratory system when properly worn. They should be worn covering both the mouth and nose and not removed until you are away from any hazard. They can be made at home and even include some filters. If they are re-usable, they should be washed frequently and dried in the sun.
If you decide to wear a face mask, it’s important to wear it properly and follow CDC and manufacturer’s instructions. Wear them when advised by your doctor, or before there is a hazard present. For instance, put the mask on before you get out of your car to go to the grocery store. Leave the mask in place until you are away from the hazard, i.e. back in the car. Do not remove the mask to talk to people, or on the phone, or sample the grapes. Anytime you remove the mask you could be putting yourself and others at risk.
We are in uncertain times, but we all need to do our part and stay home as much as possible. Allow elderly and parents of young children first option on necessities. And if you have any spare N95 masks, please donate them to your local healthcare providers. There is a huge shortage to keep them safe, and if they get sick, we are all screwed! Below is a link to the CDC guidelines on properly wearing a face mask, as well as how to make your own. Be safe everyone and if you don’t need to go out, don’t go out.
If you are not a seamstress you may have found the link above useless. With that in mind, for those of us with less than an ideal sewing aptitude, or those looking for other ways to make face masks, let me introduce you to HappyDIYHome.com. They put out a post that has 5 alternatives to creating a face masks, 2 of which that don’t require any sewing! Link HERE. I hate to admit it, but the idea of making a face mask out of a T-shirt never occurred to me. Most of us probably have an old favorite shirt we are still holding onto, thinking one day we will fit back in it. This may be a great time to “up-cycle” it into a functional face covering.