Review- Legit N95 Breathing Mask or Another Scam

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This document recommends practices for extended use and limited reuse of NIOSH-certified N95 filtering facepiece respirators (commonly called “N95 respirators”). The recommendations are intended for use by professionals who manage respiratory protection programs in healthcare institutions to protect health care workers from job-related risks of exposure to infectious respiratory illnesses.

Supplies of N95 respirators can become depleted during an influenza pandemic (1-3) or wide-spreadoutbreaks of other infectious respiratory illnesses.(4) Existing CDC guidelines recommend a combination of approaches to conserve supplies while safeguarding health care workers in such circumstances. These existing guidelines recommend that health care institutions:

  • Minimize the number of individuals who need to use respiratory protection through the preferential use of engineering and administrative controls;
  • Use alternatives to N95 respirators (e.g., other classes of filtering facepiece respirators, elastomeric half-mask and full facepiece air purifying respirators, powered air purifying respirators) where feasible;
  • Implement practices allowing extended use and/or limited reuse of N95 respirators, when acceptable; and
  • Prioritize the use of N95 respirators for those personnel at the highest risk of contracting or experiencing complications of infection.

This document focuses on one of the above strategies, the extended use and limited reuse of N95 respirators only; please consult the CDC or NIOSH website for guidance related to implementing the other recommended approaches for conserving supplies of N95 respirators.

There are also non-emergency situations (e.g., close contact with patients with tuberculosis) where N95 respirator reuse has been recommended in healthcare settings and is commonly practiced.(5-9) This document serves to supplement previous guidance on this topic.


Extended use refers to the practice of wearing the same N95 respirator for repeated close contact encounters with several patients, without removing the respirator between patient encounters. Extended use may be implemented when multiple patients are infected with the same respiratory pathogen and patients are placed together in dedicated waiting rooms or hospital wards. Extended use has been recommended as an option for conserving respirators during previous respiratory pathogen outbreaks and pandemics.(10, 11)

Reuse 1 refers to the practice of using the same N95 respirator for multiple encounters with patients but removing it (‘doffing’) after each encounter. The respirator is stored in between encounters to be put on again (‘donned’) prior to the next encounter with a patient. For pathogens in which contact transmission (e.g., fomites) is not a concern, non-emergency reuse has been practiced for decades.(7) For example, for tuberculosis prevention, CDC recommends that a respirator classified as disposable can be reused by the same worker as long as it remains functional 2 and is used in accordance with local infection control procedures.(9) Even when N95 respirator reuse is practiced or recommended, restrictions are in place which limit the number of times the same FFR is reused.Thus, N95 respirator reuse is often referred to as “limited reuse”. Limited reuse has been recommended and widely used as an option for conserving respirators during previous respiratory pathogen outbreaks and pandemics.(2, 3, 10-12)


The decision to implement policies that permit extended use or limited reuse of N95 respirators should be made by the professionals who manage the institution’s respiratory protection program, in in consultation with their occupational health and infection control departments with input from the state/local public health departments. The decision to implement these practices should be made on a case by case basis taking into account respiratory pathogen characteristics (e.g., routes of transmission, prevalence of disease in the region, infection attack rate, and severity of illness) and local conditions (e.g., number of disposable N95 respirators available, current respirator usage rate, success of other respirator conservation strategies, etc.). Some healthcare facilities may wish to implement extended use and/or limited reuse before respirator shortages are observed, so that adequate supplies are available during times of peak demand. For non-emergency (routine) situations, current CDC recommendations (6, 9) specific to that pathogen should also be consulted.

The following sections outline specific steps to guide implementation of these recommendations, minimize the challenges caused by extended use and reuse, and to limit risks that could result from these practices.

Respirator Extended Use Recommendations

Extended use is favored over reuse because it is expected to involve less touching of the respirator and therefore less risk of contact transmission. Please see the section on Risks of Extended Use and Reuse of Respirators for more information about contact transmission and other risks involved in these practices.

A key consideration for safe extended use is that the respirator must maintain its fit and function. Workers in other industries routinely use N95 respirators for several hours uninterrupted. Experience in these settings indicates that respirators can function within their design specifications for 8 hours of continuous or intermittent use. Some research studies (14, 15) have recruited healthcare workers as test subjects and many of those subjects have successfully worn an N95 respirator at work for several hours before they needed to remove them. Thus, the maximum length of continuous use in non-dusty healthcare workplaces is typically dictated by hygienic concerns (e.g., the respirator was discarded because it became contaminated) or practical considerations (e.g., need to use the restroom, meal breaks, etc.), rather than a pre-determined number of hours.

If extended use of N95 respirators is permitted, respiratory protection program administrators should ensure adherence to administrative and engineering controls to limit potential N95 respirator surface contamination (e.g., use of barriers to prevent droplet spray contamination) and consider additional training and reminders (e.g., posters) for staff to reinforce the need to minimize unnecessary contact with the respirator surface, strict adherence to hand hygiene practices, and proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) donning and doffing technique.(16) Healthcare facilities should develop clearly written procedures to advise staff to take the following steps to reduce contact transmission after donning:

  • Discard N95 respirators following use during aerosol generating procedures.
  • Discard N95 respirators contaminated with blood, respiratory or nasal secretions, or other bodily fluids from patients.
  • Discard N95 respirators following close contact with, or exit from, the care area of any patient co-infected with an infectious disease requiring contact precautions.
  • Consider use of a cleanable face shield (preferred 3 ) over an N95 respirator and/or other steps (e.g., masking patients, use of engineering controls) to reduce surface contamination.
  • Perform hand hygiene with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after touching or adjusting the respirator (if necessary for comfort or to maintain fit).

Extended use alone is unlikely to degrade respiratory protection. However, healthcare facilities should develop clearly written procedures to advise staff to:

  • Discard any respirator that is obviously damaged or becomes hard to breathe through.

Respirator Reuse Recommendations

There is no way of determining the maximum possible number of safe reuses for an N95 respirator as a generic number to be applied in all cases. Safe N95 reuse is affected by a number of variables that impact respirator function and contamination over time.(18, 19) However, manufacturers of N95 respirators may have specific guidance regarding reuse of their product.The recommendations below are designed to provide practical advice so that N95 respirators are discarded before they become a significant risk for contact transmission or their functionality is reduced.

If reuse of N95 respirators is permitted, respiratory protection program administrators should ensure adherence to administrative and engineering controls to limit potential N95 respirator surface contamination (e.g., use of barriers to prevent droplet spray contamination) and consider additional training and/or reminders (e.g., posters) for staff to reinforce the need to minimize unnecessary contact with the respirator surface, strict adherence to hand hygiene practices, and proper PPE donning and doffing technique, including physical inspection and performing a user seal check.(16) Healthcare facilities should develop clearly written procedures to advise staff to take the following steps to reduce contact transmission:

  • Discard N95 respirators following use during aerosol generating procedures.
  • Discard N95 respirators contaminated with blood, respiratory or nasal secretions, or other bodily fluids from patients.
  • Discard N95 respirators following close contact with any patient co-infected with an infectious disease requiring contact precautions.
  • Consider use of a cleanable face shield (preferred 3 ) over an N95 respirator and/or other steps (e.g., masking patients, use of engineering controls), when feasible to reduce surface contamination of the respirator.
  • Hang used respirators in a designated storage area or keep them in a clean, breathable container such as a paper bag between uses. To minimize potential cross-contamination, store respirators so that they do not touch each other and the person using the respirator is clearly identified. Storage containers should be disposed of or cleaned regularly.
  • Clean hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after touching or adjusting the respirator (if necessary for comfort or to maintain fit).
  • Avoid touching the inside of the respirator. If inadvertent contact is made with the inside of the respirator, discard the respirator and perform hand hygiene as described above.
  • Use a pair of clean (non-sterile) gloves when donning a used N95 respirator and performing a user seal check. Discard gloves after the N95 respirator is donned and any adjustments are made to ensure the respirator is sitting comfortably on your face with a good seal.

To reduce the chances of decreased protection caused by a loss of respirator functionality, respiratory protection program managers should consult with the respirator manufacturer regarding the maximum number of donnings or uses they recommend for the N95 respirator model(s) used in that facility. If no manufacturer guidance is available, preliminary data(19, 20) suggests limiting the number of reuses to no more than five uses per device to ensure an adequate safety margin. Management should consider additional training and/or reminders for users to reinforce the need for proper respirator donning techniques including inspection of the device for physical damage (e.g., Are the straps stretched out so much that they no longer provide enough tension for the respirator to seal to the face?, Is the nosepiece or other fit enhancements broken?, etc.). Healthcare facilities should provide staff clearly written procedures to:

  • Follow the manufacturer’s user instructions, including conducting a user seal check.
  • Follow the employer’s maximum number of donnings (or up to five if the manufacturer does not provide a recommendation) and recommended inspection procedures.
  • Discard any respirator that is obviously damaged or becomes hard to breathe through.
  • Pack or store respirators between uses so that they do not become damaged or deformed.

Secondary exposures can occur from respirator reuse if respirators are shared among users and at least one of the users is infectious (symptomatic or asymptomatic). Thus, N95 respirators must only be used by a single wearer. To prevent inadvertent sharing of respirators, healthcare facilities should develop clearly written procedures to inform users to:

  • Label containers used for storing respirators or label the respirator itself (e.g., on the straps(11)) between uses with the user’s name to reduce accidental usage of another person’s respirator.

Risks of Extended Use and Reuse of Respirators

Although extended use and reuse of respirators have the potential benefit of conserving limited supplies of disposable N95 respirators, concerns about these practices have been raised. Some devices have not been FDA-cleared for reuse(21). Some manufacturers’ product user instructions recommend discard after each use (i.e., “for single use only”), while others allow reuse if permitted by infection control policy of the facility.(19) The most significant risk is of contact transmission from touching the surface of the contaminated respirator. One study found that nurses averaged 25 touches per shift to their face, eyes, or N95 respirator during extended use.(15)Contact transmission occurs through direct contact with others as well as through indirect contact by touching and contaminating surfaces that are then touched by other people.

Respiratory pathogens on the respirator surface can potentially be transferred by touch to the wearer’s hands and thus risk causing infection through subsequent touching of the mucous membranes of the face (i.e., self-inoculation). While studies have shown that some respiratory pathogens (22-24) remain infectious on respirator surfaces for extended periods of time, in microbial transfer (25-27) and reaerosolization studies (28-32) more than

99.8% have remained trapped on the respirator after handling or following simulated cough or sneeze.

Respirators might also become contaminated with other pathogens acquired from patients who are co-infected with common healthcare pathogens that have prolonged environmental survival (e.g., methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureas, vancomycin-resistant enterococci, Clostridium difficile, norovirus, etc.). These organisms could then contaminate the hands of the wearer, and in turn be transmitted via self-inoculation or to others via direct or indirect contact transmission.

The risks of contact transmission when implementing extended use and reuse can be affected by the types of medical procedures being performed and the use of effective engineering and administrative controls, which affect how much a respirator becomes contaminated by droplet sprays or deposition of aerosolized particles. For example, aerosol generating medical procedures such as bronchoscopies, sputum induction, or endotracheal intubation, are likely to cause higher levels of respirator surface contamination, while source control of patients (e.g. asking patients to wear facemasks), use of a face shield over the disposable N95 respirator, or use of engineering controls such as local exhaust ventilation are likely to reduce the levels of respirator surface contamination.(18)

While contact transmission caused by touching a contaminated respirator has been identified as the primary hazard of extended use and reuse of respirators, other concerns have been assessed, such as a reduction in the respirator’s ability to protect the wearer caused by rough handling or excessive reuse.(19, 20) Extended use can cause additional discomfort to wearers from wearing the respirator longer than usual.(14, 15) However, this practice should be tolerable and should not be a health risk to medically cleared respirator users.(19)


  1. Murray, M., J. Grant, E. Bryce, P. Chilton, and L. Forrester: Facial protective equipment, personnel, and pandemics: impact of the pandemic (H1N1) 2009 virus on personnel and use of facial protective equipment. Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology 31(10): 1011-1016 (2020).
  2. Beckman, S., B. Materna, S. Goldmacher, J. Zipprich, M. D’Alessandro, D. Novak et al.: Evaluation of respiratory protection programs and practices in California hospitals during the 2009-2020 H1N1 influenza pandemic. American Journal of Infection Control 41(11): 1024-1031 (2020).
  3. Hines, L., E. Rees, and N. Pavelchak: Respiratory protection policies and practices among the health care workforce exposed to influenza in New York State: Evaluating emergency preparedness for the next pandemic. American Journal of Infection Control (2020).
  4. Srinivasan, A., D.B. Jernign, L. Liedtke, and L. Strausbaugh: Hospital preparedness for severe acute respiratory syndrome in the United States: views from a national survey of infectious diseases consultants. Clinical Infectious Diseases 39(2): 272-274 (2004).
  5. OSHA: “Enforcement procedures and scheduling for occupational exposure to tuberculosis.” [Online] Available at external icon , 1996).
  6. Siegel, J.D., E. Rhinehart, M. Jackson, and L. Chiarello: “2007 Guideline for isolation precautions: preventing transmission of infectious agents in health care settings.” [Online] Available at pdf icon , 2007).
  7. CDC: “Guidelines for preventing the transmission of Mycobacterium tuberculosis in health care facilities.” [Online] Available at pdf icon , 1994).
  8. Bollinger, N., J. Bryant, W. Ruch, J. Flesch, E. Petsonk, T. Hodous et al.: “TB Respiratory Protection Program in Health Care Facilities, Administrator’s Guide.” [Online] Available at, 1999).
  9. Jensen, P., L. Lambert, M. Iademarco, and R. Ridzon: “Guidelines for preventing the transmission of Mycobacterium tuberculosis in health-care settings, 2005.” [Online] Available at, 2005).
  10. CDC: “Questions and Answers Regarding Respiratory Protection For Preventing 2009 H1N1 Influenza Among Healthcare Personnel” [Online] Available at, 2020).
  11. Rebmann, T., S. Alexander, T. Cain, B. Citarella, M. Cloughessy, and B. Coll “APIC position paper: extending the use and/or reusing respiratory protection in healthcare settings during disasters.” [Online] Available at pdf icon external icon , 2009).
  12. IOM: Reusability of facemasks during an influenza pandemic: facing the flu. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2006.
  13. Lin, C.S.: “FDA Regulation of Surgical Masks and Respirators.” [Online] Available at

/media/Files/Activity Files/PublicHealth/ReusableFluMasks/FDApresentation12306.ashx external icon , 2006).

  • Radonovich Jr, L.J., J. Cheng, B.V. Shenal, M. Hodgson, and B.S. Bender: Respirator tolerance in health care workers. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association 301(1): 36-38 (2009).
  • Rebmann, T., R. Carrico, and J. Wang: Physiologic and other effects and compliance with long-term respirator use among medical intensive care unit nurses. American Journal of Infection Control 41(12): 1218-1223 (2020).
  • CDC: “Sequence for donning personal protective equipment PPE/Sequence for removing personal protective equipment.” [Online] Available at pdf icon
  • Roberge, R.J.: Effect of surgical masks worn concurrently over N95 filtering facepiece respirators: extended service life versus increased user burden. Journal of Public Health Management and Practice : JPHMP 14(2): E19-26 (2008).
  • Fisher, E.M., J.D. Noti, W.G. Lindsley, F.M. Blachere, and R.E. Shaffer: Validation and Application of Models to Predict Facemask Influenza Contamination in Healthcare Settings. Risk Analysis in press(2020).
  • Fisher, E.M., and R.E. Shaffer: Considerations for Recommending Extended Use and Limited Reuse of Filtering Facepiece Respirators in Healthcare Settings Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene: (in press) (2020).
  • Bergman, M.S., D.J. Viscusi, Z. Zhuang, A.J. Palmiero, J.B. Powell, and R.E. Shaffer: Impact of multiple consecutive donnings on filtering facepiece respirator fit. American Journal of Infection Control 40(4): 375-380 (2020).
  • FDA: “510(k) Premarket Notification.” [Online] Available at external icon , 2020).
  • Casanova, L., W.A. Rutala, D.J. Weber, and M.D. Sobsey: Coronavirus survival on healthcare personal protective equipment. Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology 31(5): 560-561 (2020).
  • Coulliette, A., K. Perry, J. Edwards, and J. Noble-Wang: Persistence of the 2009 Pandemic Influenza A (H1N1) Virus on N95 Respirators. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 79(7): 2148-2155 (2020).
  • Fisher, E.M., and R.E. Shaffer: Survival of bacteriophage MS2 on filtering facepiece respirator coupons. Applied Biosafety: Journal of the American Biological Safety Association 15(2): 71 (2020).
  • Lopez, G.U., C.P. Gerba, A.H. Tamimi, M. Kitajima, S.L. Maxwell, and J.B. Rose: Transfer Efficiency of Bacteria and Viruses from Porous and Nonporous Fomites to Fingers under Different Relative Humidity Conditions. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 79(18): 5728-5734 (2020).
  • Fisher, E.M., C.M. Ylitalo, N. Stepanova, and R.E. Shaffer: Assessing Filtering Facepiece Respirator Contamination During Patient Care in Flu Season: Experimental and Modeling Approaches. In ISRP — Sixteenth International Conference:A Global View on Respiratory Protection. Boston, 2020.
  • Rusin, P., S. Maxwell, and C. Gerba: Comparative surface-to-hand and fingertip-to-mouth transfer efficiency of gram-positive bacteria, gram-negative bacteria, and phage. Journal of Applied Microbiology 93(4): 585-592 (2002).
  • Fisher, E.M., A.W. Richardson, S.D. Harpest, K.C. Hofacre, and R.E. Shaffer: Reaerosolization of MS2 bacteriophage from an N95 filtering facepiece respirator by simulated coughing. Annals of Occupational Hygiene 56(3): 315-325 (2020).
  • Birkner, J.S., D. Fung, W.C. Hinds, and N.J. Kennedy: Particle release from respirators, part I: determination of the effect of particle size, drop height, and load. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene 8(1): 1-9 (2020).
  • Kennedy, N.J., and W.C. Hinds: Release of simulated anthrax particles from disposable respirators. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene1(1): 7-10 (2004).
  • Qian, Y., K. Willeke, S.A. Grinshpun, and J. Donnelly: Performance of N95 respirators: reaerosolization of bacteria and solid particles. American Industrial Hygiene Association Journal 58(12): 876-880 (1997).
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  • 1 The term “reuse” is used in a variety of settings in healthcare. For example, FDA defines 3 kinds of reuse: (1) between patients with adequate reprocessing (e.g., as with an endoscope), (2) reuse by the same person with adequate reprocessing/decontamination (e.g., as with contact lenses), and (3) repeated use by the same person over a period of time with or without reprocessing.(12, 13)

    2 Functional means that the N95 respirator has maintained its physical integrity and when used properly provides protection (exposure reduction) consistent with the assigned protection factor for this class of respirator.

    3 Use of a cleanable face shield is strongly preferred to a surgical mask to reduce N95 respirator contamination. Concerns have been raised that supplies of surgical masks may also be in limited supply during a public health emergency and that the use of a surgical mask could affect the function of the N95 respirator.(17)

    Can an N95 face mask protect you from catching the new coronavirus?

    Face masks are reportedly selling out in cities across Asia as concerns over the spread of a deadly new coronavirus grow. China’s National Health Commission has deployed masks to healthcare workers responding to the outbreak, and millions of masks have been sent to residents of Wuhan, according to reports. But will these masks stop people from catching the virus?

    Coronavirus facts: Listen to our podcast about the new coronavirus outbreak

    We know the coronavirus is airborne, and that it can be transmitted between people. Researchers believe that the virus may have made the jump from animals to people via the inhalation of airborne particles in a seafood market that sold live wild animals. So it makes sense to cover your nose and mouth.

    There are two main types of face masks that are being used to do that. One is a standard surgical mask – the kind worn by surgeons during operations. These masks are designed to block liquid droplets, and might lower the chance of catching the virus from another person.


    But these masks don’t offer full protection against airborne viruses. For a start, they don’t fully seal off the nose and mouth – particles can still get in. And very small particles can simply pass through the material of the mask. These masks also leave the wearer’s eyes exposed – and there’s a chance the virus can infect that way. “They might help, but it’s not clear they give you total protection,” says Mark Woolhouse at the University of Edinburgh, UK.

    One-use masks

    The World Health Organization recommends that all healthcare workers treating people with the virus wear these surgical masks, along with gloves, goggles and gowns. Surgical masks are thought to be more effective in a clinical setting because they are accompanied by other protective equipment and stringent hygiene practices. The masks are also frequently replaced – surgical masks are not designed to be used more than once.

    N95 respirators offer more protection. Such devices are designed to prevent 95 per cent of small particles from entering the nose and mouth area. But they only work if they fit properly, and aren’t suitable for children or people with facial hair.

    N95 respirators can also make it more difficult for a person to breathe, so could be dangerous for someone showing symptoms of infection of the new coronavirus, which include coughing and shortness of breath.

    Avoid large gatherings

    There are other precautions people in China can take to avoid catching the virus. Local authorities are advising residents to avoid large public gatherings, for example. The Lunar New Year holiday has been prolonged to keep people off work and out of school. And practising good hand hygiene can help.

    For most people outside China who haven’t been to one of the affected regions, the risk of catching the virus remains low for now. Health authorities are cautioning against travelling to the affected region, and it always makes sense to practice good hand hygiene.

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    If you are worried about your symptoms, and think you may have the virus, call for medical advice before visiting a hospital and potentially spreading the infection, suggests Robin Thompson at the University of Oxford.

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    N95, P100: What do all these mask numbers mean and how do I know it’s keeping me safe?

    Updated 4:20 pm PST, Friday, November 16, 2020

    With dangerous air quality from the devastating Camp Fire near Chico forcing hundreds of schools to cancel class, hundreds of thousands of parents to scramble for child care, and our lungs to scramble for air, it may be time to actually pay attention to what the numbers and codes on those dust masks really mean.

    Anyone who has worked with drywall, removed paint, or crawled into an attic has probably strapped on one of these cheap white masks. N95 is common, and is what’s been recommended for smoke, but for a buck or two more, you can get N99. What’s the difference? The 95 refers to 95 percent — as in it blocks 95 percent of the particles or “filtration efficiency per the NIOSH CFR 84 Test.” And N99? 99 percent And N100? You guessed it. It blocks 100 percent of particulates (well, 99.997% to be exact).

    Chart showing types of masks.

    Chart showing types of masks.

    N100 is the equivalent of a HEPA filter for your face.

    N100 is required for lead and asbestos, but it would certainly be good for smoke. And if you see a “P”? It filters exactly the same stuff – the only difference is, it also filters out oil-based aerosols if you were working with chemicals. A P100 or N100 are both equal in terms of filtering out soot.

    CAMP FIRE UPDATES: While the air quality is an on-going health problem impacting millions in California, the actual fire producing the smoke has killed at least 63 people, and 631 missing, in addition to destroying 10,000 homes. Get caught up on the fire fight here.

    WHEN WILL THE SMOKE FINALLY CLEAR: New forecast is not good news.

    So why do some masks have “snouts” while others don’t?

    That’s to let exhaled air escape. If you’re blowing out, your pressure means particles are not getting in, so the valve lets you exhale quickly, and then it closes and resumes filtering as you suck back in air.

    As for the cost, if it’s at the 99 Cent store, or Home Depot, does it matter? PK Safety writes in its clear language guide, “It is helpful to note that since government agencies determine these ratings, one N95 mask that is more expensive than another will not provide some kind of “better” N95 protection.”

    So if you trust the rating system, you may not need to pay more. But the more expensive masks may have better straps and better seals and reinforcement.

    Graphic showing how to read markings on a mask.

    Graphic showing how to read markings on a mask.

    Some masks are even made for smaller faces, like this one.

    If the mask isn’t sealed around your face, you’re just breathing through the edges, and it doesn’t filter much at all. Men with beards cannot get the full benefit of a mask, and many men have looked at shaving it off for the sake of their lungs.

    3M writes in this handy but rather complex guide: “Do not use tight-fitting respirators or loose-fitting facepieces with beards or other facial hair or conditions that prevent direct contact between the face and the edge of the respirator.”

    Masks for bearded men.

    Masks for bearded men.

    Protective systems recommend a half-face mask or full-face mask if you really want to save your beard, but also filter your air. If you thought people in face masks looked funny when folks first started wearing them, this is a whole other level of awkward, but who knows. Face masks look pretty normal now, so maybe this will too.

    The whole point of this article was to provide some clarity. Now, for some confusion:

    • Sacramento has stopped recommending masks. They say they make it harder to breathe (since you have to suck air through all those layers of material). Apparently for some people, yes, polluted air is better than no air it they’re short of breath. In a statement from the county, health experts say, “The Sacramento County Public Health Officer does not recommend use of N95 respirator masks for the general public.” They add, “The use of the N95 Respirator Mask is only recommended for those near the fire who do not have the option to be indoors or have access to filtered/recirculated air. N95 respirator use by those with heart and respiratory diseases can be dangerous, and should only be done under a doctor’s supervision.”

    • Also, it’s unclear how long the masks will protect you. Medical masks are changed often because you don’t want germs sitting on the outside that will infect you when you touch them, but particulate masks pretty much work till their pores get “loaded” and filled up. Certainly, a mask doesn’t last you all year, but 3M recommends, “Generally these filters should be used and reused subject only to considerations of hygiene, damage, and increased breathing resistance.” The California Department of Public Health recommends swapping masks daily, if possible.

    Face coverings, N95 masks and surgical masks: Who they’re for and how to use them

    The CDC now says that all people should wear nonmedical face coverings when interactive with other during the coronavirus pandemic. But how do those differ from medical-grade face masks?

    People across the world are wearing face masks to protect against coronavirus.

    Face masks have become a hotly debated topic in the time of the coronavirus pandemic . Fears over developing COVID-19 , the respiratory illness the virus causes, led people to hoard masks earlier this year, leading to significant shortages for medical workers. Major health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the WHO, have urged people up to only use masks if they are ill, so as not to spread the virus to others, or if you are a health care provider.

    That wisdom still stands, but the CDC released new guidelines on April 3 recommending everyone in the US wear nonmedical face coverings outside the home. This recommendation is voluntary and does not replace current social distancing and hygiene measures. Prior to the CDC’s announcement, New York City, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area and the state of Colorado advised residents to use face coverings when leaving the house.

    Coronavirus updates

    Confused yet? Let’s break down what each of these kinds of protective measures mean. There are two kinds of protective gear being talked about here: medical-grade masks and nonmedical face coverings.

    Medical-grade masks include disposable surgical face masks and N95 respirators. Surgical face masks are used to block large particles and respiratory droplets (which are sent into the air when someone coughs or sneezes) from entering or exiting your mouth. Tight-fitting N95 respirator masks are designed to filter smoke, small particles and airborne viruses.

    Nonmedical face coverings include reusable cloth masks, bandanas and scarves, and are used in the same way as a surgical mask, to protect you against large particles and respiratory droplets. However, this kind of protective covering must be cleaned between uses and is generally not used in a medical setting.

    Here’s what you need to know about how each of these masks and face coverings protect you.

    CNET Coronavirus Update

    Get all the latest on the coronavirus that’s now been declared a pandemic.

    Surgical face mask vs. face covering vs. N95 respirator

    Surgical face masks don’t block small particles, but they can prevent liquid from getting on your mouth or in your nose.

    Surgical mask

    If you’ve ever been to the dentist, surgical face masks will look familiar — health care professionals use them to prevent the splashing of fluids into their mouths. They’re loose-fitting and allow airborne particles in. People commonly wear face masks in East Asian countries to protect themselves from smog and respiratory diseases, but these masks aren’t designed to block tiny particles from the air.

    Again, a surgical face mask’s main purpose is to keep out the liquid of an infected person’s sneeze or cough from entering your mouth or nose (gross, I know). Wearing one can protect you from getting sick if you’re in close contact with someone who is ill and could also help prevent you from spreading your illness to someone else, so it’s common practice for medical professionals to wear them around sick patients.

    A reusable cloth face mask.

    Face coverings

    Face coverings are meant to protect you in the same way that disposable surgical masks do, by blocking large particles and respiratory droplets. The CDC does not provide specific examples of what should be used as a face covering, but government health officials in the San Francisco Bay Area recommend using bandanas, fabric masks and neck gaiters.

    According to the California Department of Public Health, face coverings should cover the nose and mouth and can be made from a variety of fabrics, including cotton, silk or linen. You can opt to buy a premade cloth mask, or fashion one from household items like scarfs, T-shirts, sweatshirts or towels.

    These face coverings should be washed in hot water and dried on high heat in a dryer between uses to kill any bacteria or viruses that get on them. The CDC does say to be sure to wash your hands before and after handling your face covering because it may have harmful viruses or bacteria on its surface. You also should not touch your face or face covering while wearing it out in public.

    Both disposable and reusable face masks can help prevent hand-to-mouth viral transmissions, because you can’t directly touch your own mouth while wearing one. Viruses, however, can be transmitted through your nose or eyes and virologists say that surgical face masks cannot block airborne viruses from entering your body.

    This NIOSH-approved N95 respirator will prevent airborne particles from entering.

    N95 respirators

    That’s where a respirator, a tight-fitting protective device worn around the face, comes in. When people say “respirator,” they’re usually referring to the N95 respirator, which gets its name from the fact that it blocks at least 95% of tiny particles, including viruses. Several brands manufacture N95 respirators, and they come in all different sizes. These are the masks people are most strongly requested to save for medical professionals, so it’s recommended that everyone not go out and buy them.

    However, the CDC still recommends you use a medical-grade face mask if you are sick and need to leave your home to get medical care.

    Do masks and face coverings actually prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus?

    The answer to this is technically yes, but the exact effect is difficult to define — especially on a large scale. Studies have shown that N95 masks are highly effective in preventing viral illnesses, but only in people who actually wear the masks correctly, which is rare.

    N95 masks are difficult to put on for people who aren’t medical professionals. If you’ve put the mask on right, it gets hot and stuffy, so a lot of people take it off before it can do any good. In fact, some medical professionals believe these masks actually create a more suitable environment for viruses to develop.

    Another study showed that respiratory masks are helpful in preventing viral infections, but only when combined with frequent hand washing. Dr. Michael Hall, a CDC vaccine provider, told CNET that while N95 respirators are the most protective, surgical masks can help protect you from other people’s coughs and sneezes.

    While face coverings do not filter out particles in the same way an N95 mask does, they are now recommended as an effective way of slowing the spread of the coronavirus, especially among people who have the virus, but are asymptomatic and still going out in public to get food or supplies. The CDC says:

    The coronavirus can spread between people interacting in close proximity — for example, speaking, coughing or sneezing — even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms. In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

    Bear in mind that nonmedical face coverings are only effective against spreading the virus if you continue to take social distancing measures and basic hygiene seriously. If you do follow wear face coverings outside, don’t let it serve as a false sense of security.

    The bottom line? If worn correctly and combined with other virus prevention methods, surgical face masks, N95 respirators and face coverings can help lower the risk of spreading viruses, including the novel coronavirus. But medical-grade protection should be reserved for medical professionals or those who are actively sick and need to leave the house to get medical care. The rest of us should just cover up with a bandana or cloth mask.

    The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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