As 2019 drew to a close, a novel coronavirus sprung up in Wuhan, China. Now almost a year since, the disease has spread fast across the world, infecting tens of millions and claiming the lives of over a million people.
You may have seen or heard recently all over the news and on social media about the use of face coverings to prevent the spread of Covid-19. For instance, a report published by the International Journal of Infectious Diseases actually found that search results related to the coronavirus and the use of masks in public spiked in Taiwan.
When the virus was only starting to spread, health authorities advised that the use of face coverings would not be effective for people looking to protect themselves against Covid-19. But that's only because there was limited information at the time regarding how the virus spread from person to person.
Health authorities, however, later changed their stance regarding face mask use. This prompted governments worldwide to impose various measures to stop Covid-19 from spreading any further. Nations have had to enact policies such as restricted travel, economic lockdowns, and mandatory use of face coverings in certain countries.
However, not all masks are the same. Both the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) advocating for the public use of cloth masks, the N95 mask is believed to be the best type of face mask in stopping contaminants, bacteria, and other particulate matter from reaching the wearer's nose or mouth.
Below, we'll cover the basics around N95 respirators, how they are made, how they work, and what gives them an edge over other kinds of face masks.
What is an N95 Mask
N95 respiratory face masks are a disposable type of filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs). Initially designed for industrial use, N95 masks are highly efficient in their filtering functionalities.
For this reason, the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic caused a high demand for N95 respirators. People were urged to refrain from depleting the stock of N95s since they were reserved for use by healthcare workers.
They can filter out at least 95% of particles larger than 0.3 microns in size such as mists, fumes, and dust particles. As per the CDC, large droplets carrying pathogens and bacteria cannot pass through the filters in an N95 mask.
The N' is the respirator rating letter class and it's an abbreviation for non-oil' while the 95' means having a 95% filter efficiency rating. N95s are regulated and approved for use by both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
N95s come in different moulds since people have different shapes of faces. This helps people find a model that better suits their faces.
For healthcare workers in the frontline against the coronavirus, finding an N95 mask that seals around their face is critical. That's why healthcare workers get fit-tested and trained on how to use an N95 mask. These masks, however, cannot be used to provide an effective seal for people with bears.
It's worth pointing out that not all N95 masks are intended for medical use as some are designed for industrial use.
How Do N95s Work
N95 masks are made from nonwoven material which helps a lot to filter out particles from being inhaled by the wearer as well as preventing the wearer from releasing respiratory matter into the external environment.
Particles get trapped as they are compelled to make twists and turns through the dense network of the nonwoven material fibers. These fibers are as thin as a single micron which helps trap particles.
As these particles congest, the mask becomes an even better filter. But the buildup can make the maks less easy to breathe through hence why they are designed to be disposable. N95 masks also come with electrostatically charged material which helps to attract particles.
If an N95 mask is properly fitted and worn, it can help slow the spread of Covid-19 since there will be minimal leakage around the edges of the respirator This makes sure that all the air passes through the filter media when the wearer exhales and inhales.
Some N95 masks are made with respirator valves and although they really help in breathability, people have been asked to avoid such N95 masks. N95 masks with respirator valves only help the wearer but don't do a particularly good job protecting other people.
The respirator valves tend to let a lot of unfiltered air pass through the valves. If a person is infected by the virus and they have such a mask on, they can end up infecting a lot of people since they will exhale contaminated air into publicly breathable air.
Who Should Use N95 Masks
The coronavirus pandemic has caused the supply of N95 masks to be extremely limited because they have been in high demand.
Therefore, health authorities insist that it is absolutely critical that only people who need to wear N95s do so. These people include workers in healthcare facilities because their risk of infection is very high especially when dealing with Covid-19 positive cases. People working in correctional facilities directly managing prisoners infected with the coronavirus also need N95s.
If you are able to access an N95 mask at your local drugstore or supplies store, then, by all means, feel free to buy a few. However, bear in mind that not everyone can wear an N95 maks due to medical conditions that could potentially worsen when breathing through a respirator.
N95 Masks Can Help Curb the Spread of Covid-19
To flatten the curve and reduce the rate of infections, trusted and well-informed communication is critical since humanity needs concerted efforts from people across all corners of the globe in the fight against Covid-19.
Masks have become a constant feature of the day to day lives of many Canadians who are now not only learning the type of masks available, which one suits which function best, and what is most appropriate for use.
As for N95s, they can help fight the spread of Covid-19 as highlighted above. But wearing a protective face covering alone will not do an effective job. Make sure you maintain good hand hygiene and observe social distancing whenever possible to best protect yourself from possible infection.