As the pandemic nears its second year, the need for masks and respirators has not diminished, especially in healthcare facilities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated their guidance on the types of masks and respirators best used to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. This potentially deadly virus spreads when an infected person breathes out droplets and very small particles that contain the virus. These droplets and particles can be breathed in by other people or land on their eyes, noses, or mouth. In some circumstances, they may contaminate surfaces they touch. Therefore, wearing a mask or respirator is a critical public health tool and we all need to know about the most beneficial options.
The agency recommends that people who are not up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines and are ages 2 years or older should wear a well-fitting mask in indoor public places. In areas with high numbers of COVID-19 cases, people should consider wearing a mask in crowded outdoor settings and for activities with close contact with others who are not fully vaccinated.
Respirators recommended for public
As part of its update, most importantly, the CDC would like the public to remember that any mask is better than no mask. They recommend that people wear the most protective mask that fits well and that they will wear consistently. However, their update clarified some types of masks and respirators provided more protection than others.
According to the agency, loosely woven cloth masks provide the least protection while layered finely woven masks offer more protection. Well-fitting disposable procedure face masks and KN95s offer even more protection. However, well-fitting National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-approved respirators (including N95s) offer the highest level of protection. Respirators approved by NIOSH are evaluated against a specific national standard that includes a quality requirement.
According to the CDC, “Wearing a highly protective mask or respirator may be most important for certain higher risk situations, or by some people at increased risk for severe disease.” Early in the pandemic, products such as respirators and medical masks were discouraged for use by the public due to concerns about supply shortages at healthcare facilities. Now, only a specific kind of respirator, “surgical N95,” is advised as a product that should be reserved for healthcare settings. “Surgical N95” respirators are a special subtype of N95 respirators that provide additional protection against hazards present during medical procedures, such as blood splatter.
When to wear a respirator
A respirator may be considered in certain situations and by certain people when greater protection is needed or desired.
- When caring for someone who is sick with COVID-19.
- If you are at increased risk for severe illness, for example, people who are immunocompromised, older adults, and people with certain underlying medical conditions.
- When working at a job where you interact with large numbers of the public, especially when not everyone is consistently wearing a mask.
- When riding on planes, buses, trains or other forms of public transportation, especially if it is for a long period of time in crowded conditions.
- When physical distancing is not possible or when you are in crowded indoor or outdoor public settings.
- If you are not up to date on your COVID-19 vaccinations.
Ensure masks and respirators fit
The CDC recommends disposable procedure face masks made with multiple layers of non-woven material and a nose wire. The mask’s fit is important to its ability to protect you and others. Gaps can let air with respiratory droplets leak in and out around the edges of the mask. Gaps can be caused by choosing the wrong size or type of mask and when a mask is worn with facial hair.
It is important to check that it fits snugly over your nose, mouth, and chin.
- Check for gaps by cupping your hands around the outside edges of the mask.
- Make sure no air is flowing from the area near your eyes or from the sides of the mask.
- If the mask has a good fit, you will feel warm air come through the front of the mask and may be able to see the mask material move in and out with each breath.
- If a procedure face mask does not fit properly, you can improve the fit by using a mask fitter or brace. There are several ways the mask can be knotted and tucked to fit better.
A respirator has better filtration. If worn properly the whole time it is in use, it can provide a higher level of protection than a procedure or cloth mask. However, a respirator is also less effective if it fits poorly or if it is worn improperly or taken off frequently. NIOSH advises the following tips to ensure a proper respirator fit:
- Place both hands over the respirator, take a quick breath in to check whether the respirator seals tightly to the face.
- Place both hands completely over the respirator and exhale. If you feel leakage, there is not a proper seal.
- If air leaks around the nose, readjust the nosepiece as described. If air leaks at the mask edges, re-adjust the straps along the sides of your head until a proper seal is achieved.
- If you cannot achieve a proper seal due to air leakage, ask for help or try a different size or model.
Let us help
Whatever type of mask or respirator you choose, it should fit properly and be comfortable to wear. Supply360 has a wide array of medical-grade face masks, respirators, face shields and other PPE products. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you protect your staff and those you serve.