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Cloth vs. 3ply Surgical vs. KN95 Which type of face mask offers the most protection.

by Nicholas Moller |

In the wake of the coronavirus epidemic, you’ve likely been hearing a lot about face masks and the different models that have been sporadically available. You may have found yourself using a few different types of masks. Understandably most of us have been using whatever we can get our hands on. However a few months out now, three models of face masks have become the most readily available to the general public: cloth masks, surgical masks, and KN95 masks.

While many of us agree that having some form of mask is important, it can be confusing to cut down to how one mask performs better than another. I’ll walk you through the effective differences between these three masks so when you decide for yourself and your family, you can understand the potential risk. 


Cloth Masks


The CDC has recommended face coverings made from T-shirts or spare cloth in general as a measure to prevent the spread. They recommend these of course for those to whom more specialized devices are unavailable. It’s also worth noting that the suggestion of using a cloth mask comes with the coupled suggestion of maintaining at least 6 feet distance from anyone else. The reasoning is that these combined efforts will help mitigate transmission on a wide level but the CDC also has noted that cloth masks pale in comparison to surgical or KN95 masks. Which had previously been primarily reserved for first responders and health-care workers on the frontline. In short, cloth masks are what we could call “better than nothing”.


3ply Surgical Masks


Surgical masks are the white and blue, 3-ply masks that you’ve likely seen en masse around town. Surgical masks are not designed to prevent the transmission of disease in the way we are using them. More specifically, surgical masks are normally used to block fluids and large droplets while about 70% of the outside air moves through the mask and only around 30% travels around the sides. As you may know, coronavirus can easily be transmitted through droplets from sneezing, coughing, or speaking. 


Unfortunately, we know that coronavirus also travels through aerosolized particles. This is to say, that the virus effectively travels through the air, rendering the surgical masks minimally effective, to this form of transmission. 


It has also been commented on that these masks were intended to prevent the wearer from exposing others to their bodily fluids. Meaning to say that they are likely much more effective at preventing the wearer from spreading the virus then they are at protecting them from contracting it.

 


KN95


The KN95 comes from the same tier as the fabled N95 masks that have become so rare. The “K” delineates a foreign made version of the original that is still meant to meet similar standards. More importantly, the 95 delineates the percentage of aerosolized particles the mask is designed to keep out. 


Herein lies the primary difference between these products; because the KN95 can block aerosolized particles, it exponentially decreases the risk of transmission or contraction compared to surgical masks and especially cloth masks.


The Center for Disease control has been more specific in its comparisons between these products. According to them, not only do surgical masks not pass the “fitting” test, but it also “does NOT provide the wearer with a reliable level of protection from inhaling smaller airborne particles and is not considered respiratory protection”


While both of these products in the end are single use, it cannot be understated that they functionally do not perform the same when worn out in public. Surgical masks do provide protection from a range of threats however it’s their gaping vulnerabilities that make their alternative, the KN95, the most rational choice. 

 

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