Any mask is better than no mask. Even if you have a biker bandana around your face and nose, it’s a win. There are two sides to the mask equation: protecting others and protecting yourself. Let’s look at the options.
Cover Your Nose
For any mask to work, make sure your nose is covered. This would seem obvious. If the nose is uncovered, it may look like you are wearing a mask, but it is having no effect on protecting you or the people around you. Wearing a nose covering of any kind will increase body heat, which can be uncomfortable depending on what you are doing. But the alternative of having an uncovered nose is akin to having no mask at all.
Cloth masks are helpful at reducing the speed and amount of particles that leave your mouth. There will be less misty and possibly infected breath leaving your direct area. They don’t prevent all particles from leaving or entering, but they reduce your ability to infect others and somewhat reduce the number of particles you are breathing in. These are tremendous benefits. Cloth masks are also reusable and washable.
The common medical mask one often sees are known as surgical masks. They are designed to keep the surgical staff from infecting a patient. They are disposable, and can now somewhat easily be obtained. They are also lightweight and somewhat comfortable to wear. They are not designed to protect the wearer from breathing in pathogens, although they are probably somewhat helpful.
International N95-Style Masks
To better protect yourself, and of course everyone else, you may want to source an N95-style medical mask. These are more effective than the simple surgical mask or the cloth style masks at preventing virus transmission to you and to others.
Back in the early days of Covid, it was nearly impossible to get an N95 medical mask, and for very good reason. There were not enough for the front line medical workers, and whatever supply there existed, needed to go to them first. The premium 3M N95 mask is still difficult to get. But more or less every country has standards for medical masks that approximate the N95. Here are some of their names. You can look up their density and filtering range on the CDC site here.
- Australia/New Zealand- P2
- Brazil- P2
- China- KN95, KP95
- Japan-DS2, DL2
- India-BIS P2
- Korea- 1st class
- US- NIOSH N95, R95, P95
It is quite easy now to get a KN95, which is the standard in China. I got a box of them from the helpful people at Health Supply US, but there are dozens of places you can now get international versions of N95s. You want to inquire where they get their masks, and if they have been certified.
Any of this variety of medical masks will come with a metal nose bridge that is shaped into a V for shipment. The first thing you want to do when you get the mask is to take the mask and flatten the nose metal piece. Once it is flattened, then find something round, like a small bottle top, and put a round bend into the metal piece.
When you place the mask on your face, squeeze the round part around the bridge of your nose. This will dramatically increase the seal on your face. The idea is that when you are inhaling, you want the air to be filtered by the mask, rather than come in around its edges. As a quick test, if you inhale, and you see the mask pulling in around your face, that is a good sign. You can also test for exhales by feeling for leaking air around the sides. If it is not sealing properly, you may want to investigate a different size or shape.
I have worn a duckbill version of these masks for several hours at a time. The main issue is that my ears hurt from the elastic, and I wish the straps went behind the head the way construction dust masks do. But they are not bad and, in fact, I am getting to the point of enjoying a feeling of safety when I wear it.
Play It Safe
Remember that even with a perfectly fitting high-grade mask, you are not 100% safe. It is still important to practice distancing and frequent hand washing. Covid is tremendously contagious and, when in doubt, play it safe, especially indoors in places with low airflow. I will not get on an elevator if there is someone else in it. I’ll walk the 7 flights up to our home. When I do take an elevator, I let the doors stay open for about 45 seconds so the exhaust fan can fully exchange the air.
Outdoors, my personal feeling is that if everyone has a mask and is 6 feet away, there is very little chance of infection. If the distance is 10 ft or greater outdoors then I feel pretty safe without a mask, the caveat being that both people are breathing normally. This is just my opinion, and it is not meant as medical advice.
I’m sorry to say that there is every indication that we are going to be dealing with Covid for a considerable time to come. The good news is that we know a lot more about it now, and face coverings of all varieties are no longer rarities.