With the emergence of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), masks are taking over the nation and the world. But how exactly does wearing a mask help slow the spread?
Micron: Short for micrometer. This is a unit of measurement equal to one millionth of a meter. Microns measure the sizes of particles that masks can filter.
PPE: Stands for Personal Protective Equipment and refers to supplies worn for protection against bodily hazards.
Filtering: Process of removing unwanted components. Masks filter by not allowing particles to pass through the fibers that make up the mask.
An N95 respirator mask filters out 95% of non-oil-based particles .03 microns or larger. They are used by health care workers, construction workers, scientists, welders, and anyone who encounters particulates in the workplace. The number represents the filtration efficiency, that is, the percent of particles that the mask filters out. KN95 respirator masks are the Asian market equivalent to N95 respirators, and are FDA approved as an N95 alternative.
Surgical masks block droplets, splashes, sprays, and large particles. They also protect others from secretions emitted by the wearer. Compared to an N95, they filter about 60-80% of particles. They are most commonly used by health care workers.
Cloth face masks protect others from the wearer by trapping germs the wearer emits by coughing, sneezing, or talking. In a place like a grocery store where social distancing is not always possible, it is strongly encouraged and sometimes required for the general public to wear a mask.
COVID-19 spreads though respiratory droplets from people who are infected. The droplets are released by coughing, sneezing, or talking. Some droplets are large, while some are less than 5 microns, which is considered an aerosol particle. The virus enters others though the mouth, nose, or eyes.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 25% of people who are infected show no symptoms but still carry and spread the virus. It is also suspected that people who do show symptoms are the most contagious before symptoms start. By wearing a mask to cover your nose and mouth, you are preventing droplets from escaping and infecting others.
Please note that wearing a mask will only prevent the spread of the virus if other precautions are also taken. You still need to wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds and avoid touching your face. Practice social distancing in public by staying 6 feet apart from others. Disinfect your mask before you wear it again, and never touch the front of your mask.
Protect yourself from incoming germs:
Wearing a cloth mask also helps reserve PPE for health care workers and those in other high-risk professions such as chemical scientists or retail clerks. If you have a supply of respirators or surgical masks in your home and you are not in a high-risk profession, donate your masks to your local hospital. Here are some places in the Atlanta area that are accepting PPE donations:
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