Respiratory viruses spread through small droplets in the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or even talks.1-2 For example, one study found that speaking loudly for one minute can cause the dispersal of 1,000 virus-containing droplets into the air. These droplets are capable of remaining in the air for almost ten minutes.3
Face masks are a useful tool to prevent the spread of these infectious respiratory droplets. Masks can be especially important for those who spend a lot of time caring for sick people – such as healthcare workers – and are at the greatest risk of infection. There are different types of face masks, which can make choosing an appropriate mask difficult. These include N95 respirator masks, medical masks, and non-medical masks.
What is the difference between a medical mask and a non-medical mask?
The various types of masks provide a different amount of protection from viral particles. For example, medical masks (sometimes called surgical masks), are those that are usually worn by healthcare workers. These types of masks provide protection from larger respiratory droplets that are suspended in the air.4, 5-6
One difference between a non-medical and medical mask is that non-medical masks are not considered personal protective equipment (PPE). As such, they are not considered safe to use for those who are caring for infected patients, or within a two metre distance from infected patients.7 These types of masks should be worn in general settings, but not in healthcare settings.
Choosing the right face mask
What should you consider when choosing a facemask? Current recommendations suggest that you find a mask that fits securely, which may have ties or ear loops. The mask should cover both nose and mouth, but should not have large gaps on the sides.
How to use a medical mask
Finding the right mask is only the first step in protecting yourself, how you use a medical or non-medical mask will also affect your level of protection. When using a medical mask, first make sure that the aluminum nose strip sits at the top of your mask around the bridge of your nose. Squeeze this aluminum piece to ensure a snug fit of the mask around your nose. The folds in the mask should be going in a downward direction. The white side of the mask is the inside, while the coloured side is the outside and should face out.
Current recommendations caution that wearing masks can be dangerous for some people – for example, those with respiratory conditions or trouble with breathing. In addition, masks should not be placed on children under the age of two, or on those who are unable to remove the masks without help.
Where to buy medical masks?
If you are looking to buy medical masks, we have several options available. Click here to see our full range of masks.
- Bahl P, Doolan C, de Silva C, Chughtai AA, Bourouiba L, MacIntyre CR. Airborne or droplet precautions for health workers treating COVID-19? [published online ahead of print, 2020 Apr 16]. J Infect Dis. 2020;jiaa189. doi:10.1093/infdis/jiaa189
- Gralton J, Tovey E, McLaws ML, Rawlinson WD. The role of particle size in aerosolised pathogen transmission: a review. Journal of Infection 2011; 62: 1–13.
- The airborne lifetime of small speech droplets and their potential importance in SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Valentyn Stadnytskyi, Christina E. Bax, Adriaan Bax, Philip Anfinrud. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Jun 2020, 117 (22) 11875-11877; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2006874117 https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/05/12/2006874117
- Cook, T.M. (2020), Personal protective equipment during the coronavirus disease (COVID) 2019 pandemic – a narrative review. Anaesthesia. doi:10.1111/anae.15071
- Derrick JL, Gomersall CD. (2005). Protecting healthcare staff from severe acute respiratory syndrome: filtration capacity of multiple surgical masks. J Hosp Infect. 59:365–368.
- Sandaradura I, Goeman E, Pontivivo G, et al. (2020). A close shave? Performance of P2/N95 respirators in health care workers with facial hair: results of the BEARDS (Adequate Respiratory DefenceS) study. J Hosp Infect.
- Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion (Public Health Ontario). Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): non-medical masks and face coverings [Internet]. Toronto, ON: Queen’s Printer for Ontario; 2020 [cited 2020 Nov 05]. Available from: https://www.publichealthontario.ca/-/media/documents/ncov/factsheet/2020/05/factsheetcovid-19-non-medical-masks.pdf?la=en
- Image by jardin from Pixabay