When the coronavirus pandemic first hit the US, the CDC did not recommend the use of face masks. But as scientists came to understand the virus better, their recommendations evolved. After learning that people can carry COVID-19 without showing any symptoms, and that the virus spreads through droplets that exit the mouth and nose, the CDC changed course on masks. The nation’s Centers for Disease Control now encourage all people to wear some form of facial covering whenever physical distancing is not possible.
But do the disposable surgical masks or thin cloth coverings that most people use in public really prevent the spread of coronavirus? After all, it looks like medical professionals wear much more intense, high-grade masks to protect themselves. If they require such heavy gear, why don’t we? Let’s take a deeper look.
Since healthcare professionals are exposed to high levels of the virus, the CDC offers them more intense protective recommendations. Experts now encourage doctors, nurses, and other medical workers to wear a respirator mask. This specialized personal protection equipment (PPE) is more effective than the surgical mask or cloth masks that the general public uses. They are also bulky and expensive, so civilian use of a respirator mask is a little more than necessary.
Forming a seal
A respirator mask protects its wearer from airborne particles, infectious agents, and even gases or vapors. They filter out about 95% of the microscopic things in the air.
Respirator masks are designed to form a tight seal around the wearer’s face. If you have facial hair, you’ll want to shave off that beard first for a respirator mask to function properly. Sorry.
So what’s the difference?
Everyday surgical masks stop the wearer from spreading germs. They are important for all people to wear because you may be carrying the virus without even realizing it. Wearing some kind of facial covering could be enough to slow the spread of pathogens from your mouth or nostrils to others. This is why the use of facial coverings doesn’t work unless everyone opts in. If we all do our part to cover our face, there will be a smaller chance that anyone can spread the disease to others.
A respirator mask, on the other hand, protects the wearer from inhaling germs. Though they are expensive and bulky, they are imperative for medical professionals who could otherwise take in the virus.
Still, COVID-19 is a relatively young disease, and our understanding of it grows every day. While it’s important to heed the advice of experts, remember that their advice might change in the future as their understanding of the virus changes.