Before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, you probably never considered the differences between a non-medical cloth face covering, a surgical mask and an N95 respirator. COVID-19 has created a new reality where face coverings continue to be a part of our daily life. Read on to learn more about different types of face coverings, masks, and respirators and what to consider when deciding how you can help protect yourself and others.
No. A simple way to think about it: respirators can help protect you while you breathe in; cloth or single use face coverings/masks are more about helping protect those around you as you talk, cough or sneeze.
Because masks fit loosely on the face, they do not provide respiratory protection to the wearer from germs or contaminants transmitted by coughs, sneezes, or certain medical procedures since those fine particles in the air can leak in around the edges. This is one of the key reasons why they’re not used to help protect the wearer from breathing in particles. This is where an N95 respirator comes into play.
When properly selected and used, disposable N95 respirators can help reduce your exposure to breathing in particulates, even very small particles floating in the air. N95 respirators form a tight seal to your face. Face coverings/masks do not provide this type of protection.
For a product to meet government requirements for certified respiratory protection, it must be able to capture and filter particles of varying sizes — including those so small you can’t see them. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) provides a testing, approval, and certification program assuring respirators meet the standards of 42 CFR Part 84.
Because of these protective capabilities, N95 respirators play a crucial role for healthcare workers and first responders on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the increased supply of N95 respirators, consumers now have greater access to N95 respirators. Surgical N95 respirators, however, are intended only for health care personnel who need respiratory protection and protection from fluid splashes and sprays.
Although they do not create a tight seal to the face like an N95 respirator, non-medical face coverings are convenient for wearing in everyday situations like grocery shopping, taking a socially distanced walk with your friends, or talking to your neighbors. Cloth face coverings may help block large particle droplets expelled by you from reaching others when you speak, cough, or sneeze. Generally constructed of multiple layers, these face coverings are washable and can be found at many retailers.
Like cloth face coverings, single-use disposable face masks may also assist in helping protect others from germs you might spread to them and are available at many retail stores. They do not create a seal around the face. Unlike reusable cloth coverings, single-use masks are intended to be thrown away after one use.
Surgical masks comply with recognized performance standards and are used by healthcare workers as a barrier to help protect them from liquid splashes and sprays, such as blood, that they may be exposed to during certain medical procedures. Surgical masks can also help capture some particles and droplets expelled by the wearer, such as those that may contain viruses and bacteria.
Because surgical masks fit loosely on the face, they do not provide respiratory protection to the wearer from germs or contaminants transmitted by coughs, sneezes, or certain medical procedures since those fine particles in the air can leak in around the edges. This is one of the key reasons why they’re not used to help protect the wearer from breathing in particles. This is when an N95 respirator comes into play.
An N95 respirator or similar respirator is intended to seal tightly to the face, covering the mouth and nose, and can filter at least 95% of airborne particles, including those that may contain viruses and bacteria. The entire surface of the respirator is a filter, which makes it very efficient at capturing airborne particles.
To get a NIOSH approved “N95” designation, a respirator must filter at least 95% of non-oily particles, including very small particles that can’t be seen (such as viruses). It’s important to remember that a properly fitted respirator can help reduce your exposure but not eliminate it completely.
While N95 respirators provide critical protection for frontline workers of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is enough increased supply of N95 respirators that they are also available for the general public.
3M N95s are available at multiple outlets, including in the U.S. at most home improvement stores, industrial and safety supply stores, and at authorized online retailers. Always read and follow the product packaging and user instructions, and contact 3M with any questions.
An N95 surgical disposable respirator is like a standard N95 respirator, but also meets other specific standards, such as fluid resistance, and is FDA-regulated. They are specifically for healthcare workers conducting certain tasks.
A surgical N95 respirator is intended to seal tightly to the face, covering the mouth and nose, and can filter at least 95% of airborne particles, including those that may contain viruses and bacteria. The entire surface of the respirator is a filter, which makes it very efficient at capturing airborne particles.
A surgical N95 respirator is NIOSH-approved to help reduce exposure to airborne particulate hazards and FDA-regulated to help protect against splashes and sprays of blood or body fluids.