I’m confused. How can the Center for Disease Control (CDC) tell Americans to stop buying and wearing respirator masks because they don’t help against Coronavirus, while at the same time stockpiling them for healthcare workers?
Background – Coronavirus Causing Painic Shortages
The first days of March 2020 saw Walmart, Home Depot, pharmacies and hardware stores running out of N95 respirators. Price gouging quickly followed on Amazon where shoppers searched for “N95 Mask” almost a million times in February, compared to a few thousand searches in December. Chinese-Americans are buying masks to send to relatives back home, and the CDC is stockpiling respirators for healthcare workers, making them harder to obtain and even more desirable. This even though health officials say that wearing a respirator mask (alone) isn’t really effective protection for the general population. (1)
Does a N95 Respirator Mask Protect Against Coronavirus?
- Wearing a mask in public doesn’t help the average person and can make things worse.
- Masks should be worn by patients to keep airborn droplets in, and by healthcare workers treating them.
- Masks help healthcare workers when used with other personal protection equipment and careful procedures for washing and disposal.
Why Wearing an N95 Mask (Alone) Doesn’t Protect Against Coronavirus
Wearing a respirator mask is just one thing trained medical professionals do to protect themselves against airborn pathogens. They ensure the mask fits snugly, their eyes are covered, they wear gloves, and they follow careful procedures when removing the gloves and mask to avoid contamination.
The average Jose doesn’t take these precautions, and can make things worse by touching their mask that’s been soaking up contaminants and then spreading it to their mouth or eyes.
So the only way an N95 respirator mask is going to protect against COVID-19 is if you practice surgery room hygiene combined with other protective gear.
What does N95 mean?
N95 means it’s a barrier that filters 95% of particulate matter in the air. “N” just means the filter type is “Not resistant to oil”. There are N, R and P types that offer 95%, 99% and 99.97% filtration.
What’s the Difference Between a N95 Mask and a Respirator?
Better than surgical mask that is only designed to stop droplets, a certified N95 mask must fit closely to the face with no gaps. It’s still a mask, but now it’s called a respirator. A respirator can also be a full or half-face plastic mask with replaceable cartridge filters like painters use.
How is Coronavirus Spread?
According to the CDC the virus is spread between people through airborn droplets from coughing and sneezing. These droplets can land in the mouth or nose or be inhaled into the lungs. It may be possible to catch the virus by touching an infected object and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.