Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, governments and medical professionals initially said that the general public should not wear any type of mask as a preventative measure. However, they have come to see that wearing masks—whether a disposable surgical mask or a DIY face mask—reduces the amount of droplets individuals spread when they sneeze, cough, or speak.
The experts at Healthcare Solutions are here to help you stay healthy and safe with the latest information.
When searching for a mouth mask, people confuse terms. Surgical masks have a loose fit and may have a barrier while a respirator has a tight fit and filter. Respirators are used when dealing with patients that have infections or when gas and vapors are present.
Additionally, surgical masks differ from procedural masks. A surgical mask is worn to protect the wearer from the debris produced by the operation in areas that must remain sterile, particularly operating rooms. They are worn and secured on top of a surgical cap.
A procedural mask is also for patient procedures, as well as when encountering individuals in isolation. The purpose of a procedural mask is to protect the wearer and others from the transference of respiratory debris, such as saliva spray. They have ear loops, and the wearer can don the mask without needing a surgical cap.
Surgical Mask Categorization
Surgical masks that are certified by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) are classified by four categories:
Minimum protection: For short procedures or exams where bodily fluids or particle transfer are not involved.
Level 1: For low-risk situations that do not involve bodily fluids or particle transfer. These face masks usually feature ear loops, and they are made with a fluid resistance of 80 mmHg.
Level 2: For medium-risk situations. This type of medical face mask is made with a protective barrier that can block 120 mmHg, which translates to light to moderate exposure to bodily fluids and particle transfer.
Level 3: For heavy-risk situations. These face masks protect against 160 mmHg of bodily fluids and particle transfer.
Types of Face Coverings and How to Clean Them
No face mask should be shared with another person. For single-use disposable masks, they must be placed in a bag and then put into the trash. For your safety, always wash your hands after discarding the mask.
Here are the various face coverings individuals are using to slow the spread of COVID-19:
N95 respirator: Although they are tight fitting and block 95% of tiny particles, an N95 respirator doesn’t completely eliminate the risk of illness. Medical professionals are searching for a way to disinfect these masks, so they can be reused without compromising people’s safety.
Note: The Government of Canada has issued a warning to check that the N95 respirators are certified by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Some vendors are selling unauthorized and fraudulent products that are harmful.
Surgical mask: Also called a medical mask. Its primary purpose is to protect the wearer from liquids, but they are not useful to protect against particles in the air. Since the sides sag, allowing air to pass through them, adding a nylon stocking overlayer solves the problem and provides effective particle filtration. Surgical masks have alternative names, such as medical and dental. They can be composed of various material thicknesses and are often made to be disposed of after a single use.
Cloth Masks: While surgical and N95 masks are in short supply and must be reserved for health care providers, cloth masks are easy to find and can be washed and reused. Asking everyone to wear cloth masks can help reduce the spread of the coronavirus by people who have COVID-19 but don't realize it. And countries that required face masks, testing, isolation and social distancing early in the pandemic seem to have had some success slowing the spread of the virus. Cloth masks are cheap and simple to make. Instructions are easy to find online. Masks can be made from common materials, such as sheets made of tightly woven cotton. The CDC website even includes directions for no-sew masks made from bandannas and T-shirts. Cloth masks should include multiple layers of fabric.
How to wear a cloth face mask
Cloth face masks should be worn in public settings where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, such as in grocery stores, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.
Here are a few pointers for putting on and taking off a cloth mask:
- Place your mask over your mouth and nose.
- Tie it behind your head or use ear loops and make sure it's snug.
- Don't touch your mask while wearing it.
- If you accidentally touch your mask, wash or sanitize your hands.
- Remove the mask by untying it or lifting off the ear loops without touching the front of the mask or your face.
- Wash your hands immediately after removing your mask.
- Regularly wash your mask with soap and water in the washing machine. It's fine to launder it with other clothes.
Finally, here are a few face mask precautions:
- Don't put masks on anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious or otherwise unable to remove the mask without help.
- Don't put masks on children under 2 years of age.
- Don't use face masks as a substitute for social distancing.
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