With concerns about Covid-19 variants across the country, many people are restocking their supply of disposable face masks to wear outside the home. And unlike the beginning of the pandemic, when face masks were in short supply, shoppers now have many options to choose from, like reusable cloth masks, Disposable Masks and respirators (N95s and KN95s, for example).
Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind, experts said, is that any mask is better than no mask at all.
“Next to social distancing, face masking is without question the most effective mechanism to prevent transmission of viruses,” said MarkAlain Déry, DO, MPH, an epidemiologist and medical director for infectious diseases at Access Health Louisiana.
Types of disposable face masks
What medical-grade and nonmedical-grade Disposable Face Masks, as well as respirators, have in common is that they’re designed to be single-use face coverings — after you wear them, or when it gets dirty or contaminated, it goes in the trash.
That doesn’t actually mean you have to toss them after a single use, however. Depending on the mask and how long you wear it for, it can be worn multiple times if you remove and store it properly, and as long as it is not wet or contaminated, for example.
The pros and cons of disposable masks
According to Déry, medical-grade disposable face masks are better than cloth masks at protecting others if the person wearing them is infected.
“There have been a number of studies looking at the efficacy of disposable masks,” Déry said. “In terms of N95 and the three-layered surgical masks, these performed the best, both in terms of the inhalation and exhalation of the virus.”
On the other hand, medical-grade or not, disposable masks create more waste, since they can’t be reworn repeatedly. Plus, supplies may be limited, depending on local Covid surges and mask shortages at medical facilities. And since you have to continually buy new disposable masks, they can end up being more expensive.
Seal-tested Half Facepiece Respirator masks include the N95 and other FFP2/3 forms.
These masks have tangled fibers to filter pathogens in the air, and they fit very close to the face. The edges form a seal around the mouth and nose.
The general public should not use these masks as they are in critical supply. Only healthcare workers should use them.