What Kind of Mask Should I Wear?

By Amy Eiduke

Wearing face coverings is now a requirement in public places in Illinois and an important part in helping prevent the spread of COVID-19 everywhere. However, there are so many different types of masks and options it’s hard to know which mask will work best for you and your family. Here are a few answers to most often asked questions.

What’s the difference between the cloth masks and hospital masks?

The difference between cloth face coverings and hospital masks is that homemade masks are not FDA regulated. Homemade masks can reduce the chance that the wearer transmits the virus to other individuals, but they doesn’t necessarily protect the wearer.

“Hospital masks are regulated and protects the wearer by forming a barrier to the virus itself or body fluids that contain the viruses,” says Dr. Kamo Sidhwa, infectious disease specialist at Advocate South Suburban Hospital. “So, hospital masks offer more protection. But as we are limited in our personal protective equipment resources in our country, these should be reserved only for health care workers who are on the front lines.”

What fabrics are best to use with homemade masks?

There is no sound data about which type of homemade masks offer the most protection. Some small studies have suggested that using a double layer mask with tightly woven cotton (600 thread count or more) on the outside with either a chiffon, silk or flannel interior lining would be most effective. The cotton would provide a mechanical barrier, and the interior material would provide a static charge which would serve as an additional electrostatic barrier as well. This has not been definitively proven, however.

Some store-bought masks include a carbon filter. Does that help protect you from COVID-19?

Carbon filter masks are more effective in avoiding the ill effects of pollution and allergies but only protect against large particles. COVID-19 is an extremely small virus, so these types of filters would not likely offer much protection.

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“I would recommend any homemade mask that fits over an individual’s mouth and nose and which fits snugly with no gaps but not so tight fitting that it is difficult to breathe,” Dr. Sidhwa says. “More than the mask itself, is how to use them correctly. When removing the mask, remove it from the back straps and avoid touching the front of the mask so as to decrease hand contamination. After removal, place in an isolated, covered place (such as a container or even a closed brown lunch bag). But, wash any soiled mask immediately. Try not to touch your face after removing the mask and most importantly, wash your hands with antibacterial soap and water or with cleanse with appropriate hand sanitizer before or after wearing a mask.”

Keep in mind, wearing a mask is not a substitute for self-quarantine, social distancing or frequent hand washing as it is still possible to contract the virus while wearing a mask. And regardless of which type of mask you use, you must be sure to wear it and take care of it correctly.

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