The ever-changing circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have many people understandably on edge. Projections about the virus’s potential death toll led to the decision to extend social distancing recommendations through April 30 — and depending on how the disease progresses, further extensions could be made. In many states, lockdowns have even further curtailed the normal day-to-day routine.
While Americans are strongly advised to avoid making unnecessary trips or participating in gatherings of 10 or more, people are still allowed to leave the house. Trips to get groceries, medicine, or to seek needed medical care cannot always be avoided, even with an increasing number of businesses offering food delivery or online or phone-based communications.
Of course, going out in public presents a risk in and of itself. Even though people who exhibit coronavirus symptoms are supposed to self-isolate for 14 days, not everyone follows these recommendations. Making it even harder to control the spread, the majority of people who catch COVID-19 either experience mild symptoms or may be entirely asymptomatic. As such, they may think they are completely fine and still go out and about.
To reduce their risk of catching the virus, many people have begun wearing face masks and plastic gloves when going out in public. While there are many mask options out there, N95 masks are generally acknowledged to be the most effective at stopping the spread of COVID-19. Here’s why.
How Does COVID-19 Spread?
A big part of the reason why N95 masks have become such an in-demand item is because of how COVID-19 is believed to spread.
Here’s what the World Health Organization has to say on the subject: “People can catch COVID-19 from others who have the virus. The disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth which are spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales. These droplets land on objects and surfaces around the person. Other people then catch COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. People can also catch COVID-19 if they breathe in droplets from a person with COVID-19 who coughs out or exhales droplets.”
While the WHO’s guidelines indicate that the risk of catching the virus from asymptomatic individuals is low, it is quick to note that even someone with only a mild cough could easily transmit COVID-19 to others.
Because respiratory droplets are believed to be the primary culprit behind the virus’s spread, regularly washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds and staying at least six feet away from people who aren’t part of your household are strongly recommended.
However, even following these guidelines is no guarantee that you won’t accidentally get too close to someone who coughs or sneezes while out in public. This is where N95 masks typically come in.
How Do N95 Masks Protect Users?
Because there is not yet a vaccine for COVID-19, individuals in high-risk groups should take extra precautions when they must go out in public. N95 masks (as rated by the NIOSH) have been widely recognized as being an important part of limiting one’s exposure to airborne particles.
The designation N95 is important because it means that the mask has 95 percent filter efficiency against airborne particles. These masks filter bacteria, viruses, and dust, and are rated to remove the vast majority of particles as small as 0.3 microns. The masks can also protect against blood and other bodily fluids — a big part of why they are the preferred option for medical usage. The “N” means it does not offer resistance to oil, though that is not relevant for medical-related concerns.
Ultimately, a N95 mask provides a protective barrier that keeps the majority of harmful air pollutants and liquids from getting into the user’s breathing passages. The masks are effective even when the user is in close proximity to the potential source of contamination — hence, why they are used by everyone from doctors to woodworkers.
These masks are also meant to keep someone who is sick from transmitting the disease to others. The N95 mask helps contain the user’s saliva and respiratory exposure. Because of this, the masks are designed for one-time use. They should be disposed of after you have used them, and should never be shared with others. This could spread COVID-19 and other diseases, rather than contain them.
While a N95 mask can provide added protection when going out in public, it does not negate the need for other social distancing and hygiene activities. Studies have found that many N95 masks still allow the penetration of airborne particles. Getting too close to someone who has COVID-19 would still likely result in the transmission of the virus, even if you were wearing a mask. The mask should be an addition to other precautions — not a replacement.
Despite this, there is no denying that a N95 mask will be far better than a homemade substitute. In fact, one study found that N95 masks are 50 times more effective than homemade face masks.
Types of N95 Masks
There are actually multiple types of N95 masks available. While these different options provide protection against airborne particles, they were designed with different purposes in mind, which affects their design and fit.
The most well-known variant are foldable particulate masks, or surgical masks. Designed to be hygienic and skin friendly, these masks have a looser fit, and do not form as tight of a seal around your mouth and nose. These masks are often paired with a face shield because of their use in medical facilities.
Though they are more comfortable, they do not provide as strong of protection against COVID-19 because they don’t form an airtight seal. However, they are still more effective than homemade masks and will block the majority of airborne contaminants.
The other main type of N95 mask is a respirator mask. These masks have adjustable nose pieces and head straps that allow them to form a tighter seal around the mouth and nose. This offers added protection against viruses and other airborne contaminants, though the tighter seal could cause the mask to feel hot and uncomfortable during use. As a result, they are typically worn for shorter periods.
One important thing to keep in mind with respirator masks is that unlike surgical masks, they don’t use a “one size fits all” design. You must get a fit that matches your face so that the mask can form an effective seal. Children and men with facial hair are often unable to achieve this tight seal. Fit testing is strongly recommended to ensure that you get a mask that is the appropriate size.
While some respirator masks have exhalation valves to prevent this heat buildup, it is important to remember that N95 masks can make it somewhat harder to breathe. Each breath you take is filtered through the mask, which reduces the flow of air. Those with respiratory illnesses should consult with their healthcare provider to determine if they should use a N95 mask or not.
Wearing Your N95 Mask Properly
While wearing a N95 mask can provide additional protection against COVID-19 and other airborne viruses, it will only be truly effective if it is worn properly. In light of the current pandemic, it hasn’t been all that uncommon to see pictures of individuals wearing face masks that cover their mouth, but not their nose.
Needless to say, such an approach defeats the purpose of wearing a N95 mask in the first place. This is even more true if you have contracted COVID-19 or another disease and wish to minimize the risk of spreading the illness to others.
Before putting on a N95 respirator, users should clean their hands and check the mask for any damage. Do not wear a mask that has been ripped or has holes in it. Put the mask over your mouth and nose with the metal strip at the top of the mask. The metal strip should be facing inward, resting against the bridge of your nose. Press firmly against the metal strip to mold it to your nose.
Next, tie or loop the elastic bands to create a snug fit. Pull the mask into position so that it fully covers your mouth, nose, and chin. Adjust the bands as needed if the mask does not seem to be forming an airtight fit. Try to avoid touching the mask once you are out and about, even if it feels like it needs to be adjusted.
After you’re done wearing your N95 mask, throw it away in a sealed container. You should only touch the elastic bands when taking off the mask. Avoid touching the mask itself, as it is more likely to have been contaminated by exposure to the virus.
Wash your hands after touching the mask to minimize the risk of infection from your time out and about. Those who are caring for individuals with COVID-19 or who have contracted the disease are the ones who need these masks most, and who must be especially mindful of these guidelines.
Staying Healthy During Challenging Times
The current situation with COVID-19 can be extremely stressful, and is resulting in financial and emotional distress for many. This is especially true for individuals with sleep apnea and other respiratory conditions, as many CPAP users are considered to be at higher risk for experiencing severe symptoms as a result of COVID-19.
Here at No Insurance Medical Supplies, we understand that these times can be scary. That is why we have begun offering N95 masks to help protect you if you are caring for someone with COVID-19 or have contracted the virus yourself. We are also now selling antibacterial soaps, and as always, we offer a wide selection of CPAP cleaning supplies to help you keep your equipment in sanitary condition.
We will do our best to keep these items in stock as long as possible. However, increased demand because of the current pandemic means we do expect these masks to sell out before long.
If the N95 mask you’d like to purchase has been sold out, you can click to add it to your wish list. This way, you will receive a notification when the item is back in stock.
Of course, we are continuing to offer CPAP machines and accessories during this time, as long as stock is available. We are fulfilling orders as they come in and doing everything we can to help you get the items you need as quickly as possible. As always, shipping is free on orders over $89, and many of our CPAP products are available at significant discounts off MSRP.
These are troubling times, but we know that they can be overcome. Stay safe and do your part to stop the spread, and don’t hesitate to reach out to our team if you have additional questions or concerns about how we are responding to COVID-19.