Which Masks Are Most Effective Against The New COVID-19 Strain

As the world waits their turn in the line for COVID-19 vaccinations, news of a more viral strain is breaking. The new strain, which first appeared in the UK, has been designated B.1.1.7. It has now spread across the world.

It’s not more deadly than the original coronavirus, but it is easier to catch and spread. This means there are more people at risk for contracting COVID-19. Because of this, France has declared that regular cotton masks are not good enough to prevent transmission.

Here are some things you need to know about wearing a face mask and which masks are most effective against the new COVID-19 strain.

When should you wear a face mask?

Face masks should be worn whenever you are outdoors, in public or around people other than your household. You don’t need to wear one in the car on the way to the store, but you should put one on before entering the store and keep it on until you’re back in the car.

Keep in mind that even if you are alone, you might catch COVID-19 in a room where someone else has just sneezed, coughed, or even just hung around in. When in doubt, keep the mask on.

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How does wearing a mask prevent COVID-19 from spreading?

Masks help stop the release of the virus through respiratory droplets. But, the disease is most infectious before the carrier even knows they have it. So if you’re feeling just fine and going without a mask, you can be putting many other people at risk for COVID-19. A mask works because it prevents the droplets from getting airborne. This has been known for years. People in Asian countries wear masks during cold and flu season, either to prevent contracting illness or, if they are ill themselves, to prevent spreading it.

There are three basic types of face masks being used to prevent the spread of COVID-19. One is the cloth mask, another is the paper or surgical mask, and the third is the respirator mask or N95. The thing all three have in common is that they can be fastened around the ears or tied behind the head to snugly fit over the mouth and nose. It’s important that there be no gaps between the mask and the skin for the droplets to get through.

Next, we’ll cover the different types of masks and which ones are most effective against the new COVID-19 strain.

N95 masks

The most effective masks are N95. They are specially fitted to the individual’s face and are tested to filter out 95% of tiny airborne particles. These masks are the best at preventing respiratory droplets from getting through, either from inside or outside the mask. Considered the gold standard of masks, they are in short supply, so the CDC has recommended to reserve them for healthcare workers. Their risk is the greatest both to catch COVID-19 and to pass it to others. A list of FDA-approved N95 masks is available from the CDC here.

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KN95 or KF94 masks

Fortunately, however, a version exists that is less costly and, when authentic, basically as effective as the N95. These are the KN95 or KF94, and they are only slightly different from the N95. KN95 masks adhere to standards issued in China, while KF94 masks meet standards from South Korea.

They are comparable to N95 filtration and can be purchased online or through medical supply stores. The issue is that these masks are prone to ineffective knockoffs and imitations, so you want to avoid buying them on Amazon or eBay. The FDA has released a list of approved KN95 masks and where to buy them here.

Surgical masks

The next most effective type of mask, after N95s and KN95s, is the surgical mask. They have been shown to do a good job containing respiratory droplets. The problem is that surgical masks do not fit tightly against the face. So, while they may help you from spreading coronavirus, they are not as good as N95s at preventing you from catching it yourself.

Still, if everyone wore a surgical mask, “there would be about 70 percent decrease in infection,” cardiologist Dr. Rajesh Mohan told The New York Post.

There’s a simple way to help increase the effectiveness of a surgical mask, though. You can double it with a cloth mask. Just make sure both layers fit as snugly to your face as possible.

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Cloth masks

While cloth masks are not as effective as N95s, they are better than nothing. But they should be made correctly and worn correctly. They have to fit the face and be made of at least two layers of cotton, linen, or other tightly woven fabric. There are many patterns online if you have the desire to make your own mask, or you can find some for sale online on craft websites. Masks made of mesh or a see-through fabric are not suitable.

Some homemade masks are made with a pocket where you can insert a filter between the inner and outer layer, which provides even more protection against transmission. But cloth masks must be washed, preferably every day, to be most effective. Therefore, you should keep several on hand so you always have access to a clean mask.

Next, we’ll discuss the one type of mask you should never wear. Studies have even shown it’s worse for spreading COVID-19 than wearing no mask at all!

Bandanas or neck gaiters

While most doctors would admit that any kind of mask is better than no mask, bandanas or neck gaiters are not suitable. Bandanas cannot be secured around the face closely enough to prevent respiratory droplets from leaking out. Gaiters, which are tubes of elastic material worn around the neck and pulled up over the nose and mouth, have a different problem. The same material that makes them fit the head and neck is also loosely woven. As a result, this permits gaps that the virus laden droplets might be able to get through.

In fact, a study by researchers at Duke University found that wearing a bandana or neck gaiter was actually worse than wearing no mask at all! How is that possible? It turns out the porous materials these items are made of break up bigger particles into smaller ones, creating a higher count of droplets that float in the air and can spread coronavirus.

It’s up to each of us to do our part and wear the safest masks possible to help stop the spread of COVID-19.