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Video | Cloth, Surgical, N95, KN95: Which COVID-19 Mask is Best FIT for You?

Confused about which COVID mask to pick? Here's an up-to-date guide to all the types available in the market.

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Animation and Video Editing: Puneet Bhatia

Voice Over: Anoushka Rajesh

2 Years into the Pandemic, and it seems like COVID-19 is here to stay.

With fully vaccinated people getting infected by the thousands, it also looks like face masks are likely to stay an integral part of our outfits for the foreseeable future if we are to protect ourselves and those around us from COVID-19 and all its variants.

A lot has been said about masks, with guidelines surrounding their use constantly changing as we find out new things about the virus.

So then, How do you pick the mask that's best fit for you?

Currently there are 3 main types of masks being used,

  • The respirator

  • The surgical mask

  • The cloth mask

Here's a quick run down of how these masks compare to each other.

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Cloth Masks 

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Cloth Masks</p></div>

Cloth Masks

(Photo: iStock)

The good old cloth mask is durable, accessible and cheap, and can be made at home. They are also the most eco friendly option.

These were recommended in the initial days of the pandemic when COVID was thought to spread only through large droplets. There was also a shortage of N95 masks, and the idea was to save them for frontline workers.

But now that we know that the virus is airborne, and with new more virulent variants emerging, experts are saying that cloth masks are not enough, particularly when it comes to the omicron variant.

Surgical Masks

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Surgical Masks: What to know</p></div>

Surgical Masks: What to know

(Photo: Aroop Mishra/FIT)

These were previously, almost exclusively used by medical professionals.

Although they provide better protection than cloth masks, they aren’t recommended for everyone.

One reason is that these are strictly one time use masks and were never meant to be repeatedly taken off and put back on and used multiple times like a regular person going about their day would do.

Secondly, though they are made from the same material as n95 masks, they are primarily designed to keep large droplets from escaping, and won't work as well against tiny airborne particles. They also tend to have a loose fit, with gaps on the sides in particular.

The Respirator

<div class="paragraphs"><p>N95 Masks</p></div>

N95 Masks

(Photo: Aroop Mishra/FIT)

These are known by different names in different parts of the world. In the UK, they are called FFP2, in the US and in India they’re called N95.

There are also Korean and Chinese made versions of these known as KF94 and KN95.

In India, the N95 mask was first recommended for severe air pollution, because they are able to filter out really tiny particles including the fine particle pollutant PM2.5.

And now, knowing what we know about COVID-19, experts suggest that as far as masks go, these N95 masks are our best bet at keeping the virus, especially the Omicron variant out.

However, N95 masks used for pollution that have exhalation valves should be avoided.They might make it easier to breathe, but if you are infected, they offer no protection to people around.

Moreover, it’s important to make sure they are of a good quality. When buying an N96 mask in India, look for the ISI stamp to make sure they're genuine.

The downside though is that they can be expensive, and they have to fit well for them to work at their promised calibre.

India’s Official Guidelines on Masking

Although the government hasn't issued clear guidelines on the kind of mask to be used by the general population,

According to the ministry of health and family welfare, those who have covid are advised to use

  • A triple layer medical mask

  • Preferably N95 if they come into contact with caregivers

  • Replace them every 8 hours

<div class="paragraphs"><p>MoHFW guidelines for masking by COVID-19 patients</p></div>

MoHFW guidelines for masking by COVID-19 patients

(Photo: Ministry of Health and Family Welfare)

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The Bottomline

The mask you pick depends on your requirement and level of risk.

A cloth mask, though better than nothing, may not be able to adequately protect you. But it is the most economical option.

On the other hand, a well fitted N95 mask provides the best protection, but they can be expensive and overuse by the general public could lead to shortage for frontline workers.

According to experts, N95 masks can be safely reused if there is a 5 day gap between using the same mask again. This is because the virus doesn’t stay on surfaces for longer 96 hours.

An efficient way to do this is to have one mask for each day of the week – a Monday mask, a Tuesday mask, and so on.Lastly, when storing them, make sure to keep the masks in an open, airy place.

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