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What’s Behind the Mask?

What’s Behind the Mask?
By Mason Frenzel
Published by Ruby

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By now, we’ve all seen and heard the term “N95” popping up all over the news as we navigate life during the coronavirus pandemic. You may be wondering, “What in the world does N95 mean?” Although it may sound like the latest fad diet, workout program, or newly discovered galaxy, N95 is actually a rating given to certain disposable face masks by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

It turns out the “N” and the “95” represent two different factors that these disposable masks are rated on:

  1. How resistant the mask is to oil
  2. How much is filtered from the air that passes through the mask

The “N” in this case means that the mask is not resistant to oil while the “95” means that the mask will filter out 95% of particles in the air. So now that we’ve “cleared the air” on what N95 means (pun definitely intended), what should we expect N95 masks to do for us, and are there other alternatives if we don’t have one?

Let's Talk About Masks

First of all, let’s be clear. The CDC still recommends that the most effective tools to avoid being infected with COVID-19 are social distancing and frequent and thorough hand washing. However, for many of us, there will be times when it’s difficult to maintain proper social distancing. In those situations, the CDC recommends wearing a face covering.

It is important to note, however, that wearing a mask or face covering does not necessarily protect you from contracting the virus. The hope, however, is that it might minimize the chance that you could transmit the virus to someone else, especially in the case that you are an asymptomatic carrier or in the early stages of infection before you begin to show symptoms but can still pass the virus along. That being said, a mask’s effectiveness can hinge on several factors.


Are All Masks Created Equal?

One factor that can impact a mask’s effectiveness is how tightly it fits to the face while a second is the material the mask is made of. Many people may not realize the difference between an N95 mask, which blocks 95% of particles, and a surgical mask which blocks less, so the CDC has created a helpful infographic to explain the differences. The CDC has also encouraged people to make their own masks due to shortages, and even provided instructions on how to do it. But how effective are different materials at filtering out airborne particles? Well, if you’re looking for something you may have around the house, a 2010 study compares different everyday fabrics and the percentage of particles they successfully filter from the air. Here’s what they found:

Sweatshirt – 20%-30%

T-Shirt – 14%

Cotton Towel – 34%-40%

Scarf – 11%-27%

If you’re looking for something a little more robust, a recent study has found that a layer of tightly woven cotton sheet combined with two layers of polyester-spandex chiffon came close to matching the N95 mask, filtering out 80%-99% of airborne particles. There are also non-woven materials you can find that can serve as a filter layer in your homemade mask. But the CDC recommends that whatever type of homemade cloth mask you use, it’s important to wash it routinely based on your use to ensure that no virus particles remain trapped in the cloth.

Be Prepared

Whether you decide to wear a mask or not, or whether you decide to get an N95 mask or make your own, the important thing is that you have the information you need to be prepared for whatever the future holds.

At Ruby, our hope is that being informed can help prevent a medical emergency. But in the event that you do experience a medical emergency, it’s important that you and your family are prepared in advance so you can get the best care possible. The Ruby Medical Information Kit will give you peace of mind by allowing you to securely upload and share your important medical information with family and loved ones. Learn more here!

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