The novel coronavirus at the start of 2020 took the whole world by storm. Almost everyone is wearing a face mask or a respirator and stores are running out. There are so many varieties of masks out there and among the chaos of the pandemic, you might be confused as to which one is actually effective.
First things first, there is a difference between masks (like the type surgeons and healthcare workers use) and respirators. The masks worn by surgeons follow a simple design and are meant to block small liquid droplets (like mucus or saliva when someone sneezes). Surgical masks don’t completely cover the nose and mouth. However, coronavirus like all viruses, are air-borne and technically could get through the gaps in the mask to your nose and mouth.
Respirators on the other hand, are effective at covering your nose and mouth. They are designed to block out most tiny airborne particulates found in the air, which includes viruses. Respirators allow you to breathe air that has been filtered from all kinds of miniscule particles, ranging from bacteria to viruses found in the air. So, between a surgical mask and respirator, you should definitely go with a respirator to avoid catching a virus.
Different types of respirators
At first you might be a bit overwhelmed by all the different names of respirators- N95, N99, N100, R95, R99, etc. All these numbers and letters represent a particular kind of air filter, depending on the type and amount of particles they filter. These respirators are all classified and approved by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
The letters (N, R and P) define the type of particles filtered by the respirator. Respirators labelled N filter out airborne particles but are not resistant to oil. The ones labelled ‘R’ also filter out airborne particles, but they are also mildly resistant to oil. If it’s labelled ‘P’, then they are fully resistant to oil particulates. Oil proof respirators are more for people who work in an industrial environment or work around various oils and chemicals.
The number in a respirator classification such as 95 or 100 represents the percentage ofair particulates that it filters. So, 95 means it blocks out 95% of airborne particles, whereas 100 blocks out 100% of them.
Difference between N95 and P95 respirators
An R95 blocks out 95% of airborne particles and is mildly resistant to oil. An N95 mask also blocks out 95% of airborne particles, but it can’t withstand oils. An R95 is also more expensive than an N95 respirator.
So, which one’s better for coronavirus? Technically, they’re both equally effective against viruses. You only need to get an R95 if you want to avoid coronavirus AND you work in an industrial or chemical environment. Whichever one you use, the effectiveness of the respirator will depend on wearing it correctly so that it securely fits around the nose and mouth.
It’s important to note that while N95 or R95 respirators are the best at blocking airborne coronaviruses, it is still not recommended by the CDC. This is because for those that already have coronavirus symptoms such as shortness of breath, respirators could make it harder to breathe. Check here for exact guidelines on using respirators for Covid-19.
Also, many people don’t know how to wear respirators correctly, so they become useless then. The CDC states that the best way of avoiding Covid-19 is to sanitize or wash hands with soap and avoid large gatherings.