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What types of face masks work best?

As the pandemic continues to consume important parts of our daily ritual, the process of leaving the house now includes finding keys, wallet, mask and hand sanitizer. In many parts of the country, masks are now required in public places or even outdoors where it is not possible to keep a distance of six meters.

The policy revolves around scientific evidence that masks help reduce the spread of bacteria, and therefore coronavirus that causes Covid-19 and is credited with killing more than 800,000 people worldwide. While the jokes continue about the masking policy, another focus is on which types of masks are most effective. Here is a summary.

N95 Respiratory protection and surgical masks

n95 and surgical masks

N95 masks are professional quality protection that is typical of first-aid interventions and medical personnel. Although the public can get these masks, the shortage this year has given priority to ensuring that healthcare staff are delivered first. These masks are very effective in preventing the spread of bacteria, but it is important that each mask is professionally adapted for the individual to achieve this level of safety. So even if you can get an N95 mask, it is probably as effective as most other masks without a professional fit test.

Surgical masks are very effective against virus spread and are recommended throughout the medical community. The general population can also find and carry this one-off alternative, but it may exceed the level of protection required outside the medical environment.

Homemade cotton mask

fabric face masks with beautiful floral patterns

The general consensus throughout the medical community is that if everyone wears face protection of some kind, it significantly reduces the spread of the virus. Homemade masks also fit the bill. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends In addition to choosing the right material to construct your mask with, CDC guidelines also recommend masks fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face and stay put secured with ties or ear loops, include multiple layers of fabric, allow for unrestricted breathing and can be washed and machine dried without damage or deformation, so that your homemade mask fits properly is at least as important as what materials you use to construct it.

In at least one study, the most effective cotton worms were constructed from two layers of high-quality, heavy-duty “quilter’s cotton”. Equally effective alternatives are two-layer masks made of thick batik fabric or a double-layer mask with an inner layer of flannel and outer layer of cotton.

The material can come anywhere as long as it is cotton and breathable. Look at your t-shirts, flannel pajamas and even pillowcases. Cotton face masks should be two to four layers thick and provide a good fit.

According to John Hopkins Medicine, “Surgical or procedural worms protect against the spread of respiratory droplets. Although non-medical grade fabric masks may be helpful in non-patient environments to contain coughs and to remind people not to touch the face, but they are not suitable for providing medical care to patients.

Hepa filter vacuum cleaner bags or oven filter

In addition to cotton, you can make or buy masks with HEPA filters. Researchers have verified that filters are one of the most effective alternatives. Yang Wang, an assistant professor of environmental engineering at the University of Missouri of Science and Technology, conducted several studies in a controlled environment and found that allergy-reducing HVAC filters worked best, capturing 89 percent of particles with one layer and 94 percent with two layers. A similar furnace filter captured 75 percent of the particles with two layers, but required six layers to achieve 95 percent. The disadvantage of the filters is a lack of breathability when used as the only material, together with the risk of inhaling small particles from the filter. To solve this problem, Wang suggests that the filter be sandwiched between two pieces of high-quality cotton, and many masks currently have a built-in slot for that.

3-D printed

3D printed face mask

If you have a 3D printer, an alternative might be to print a mask. Online companies have provided print files for free. You can line the printed mask with a coffee filter, a HEPA vacuum bag or cotton cloth.

Light test

If you are not sure about the quality of your materials, try the light test. Light a candle directly through the material. The less light that filters through, the better because it means that the material is dense enough to hold back viruses and other particles. Again, make sure that breathing is not restricted by the fabric.

Coffee filter

In tests, coffee filters provided some protection, but even with multiple layers, they did not provide a reliable level of safety. In addition, they are not washable. However, they are readily available and better than nothing, so making a multilayer mask is an option in the absence of preferred materials.

Other pointers

Making your own mask is quite quick and easy, especially if you are skilled with a sewing machine. Follow the CDC guidelines to ensure a good fit, but remember that masks do more to protect others if you carry a virus than they do to protect you from being infected by something. With this in mind, it is still best to stay home or practice physical distance if you have to go public. Also, be sure to put your mask through the washing machine after each trip and place it directly in the washing machine when you get home. When the pandemic hits the rearview mirror, your range of masks works when you color wood, sand planks or even cut onions in the kitchen.

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