What to wear or not to wear in Public, N95 or Surgical Mask?

Difference between N95 masks and surgical masks

Difference between N95 masks and surgical masks

When out in public or when viewing COVID-19 news coverage, you may confusingly see three types of face masks:

N95 Respirators – A particulate-filtering facepiece respirator that meets the N95 standard of the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health air filtration rating because it filters at least 95% of airborne particles.

Surgical Face Masks – A mask intended to be worn by healthcare professionals during surgery to catch the bacteria shed in liquid droplets and aerosols from the wearer’s mouth and nose.

Homemade Cloth Face Mask Coverings ­– Bandanas, scarves, and cloths that cover the nose and mouth.

The general public is encouraged to use a homemade face mask at this time. Surgical masks and N95 respirators are in critical demand, and the CDC asks that citizens reserve them for use by healthcare workers and other medical first responders. You can make an effective cloth face covering from household or other common materials. The CDC provides instructions for creating a facemask from t-shirts, coffee filters, bandanas, and other cotton clothes here. All face coverings must be disposed of after each use, or laundered before being worn again.



Note that all homemade cloth face coverings should:

Fit securely but not uncomfortably against the face

Be secured with ties or ear loops to hold in place

Include multiple layers of fabric

Allow for unrestricted breathing

Be washable without damaging the material or changing the shape


Cloth face coverings should not be placed on anyone who:

Is under age two

Has trouble breathing

Is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance


Looking from a different angle to these three main mask types lets evaluate their pro’s and cons:

Homemade face masks

Homemade face masks only offer a small degree of protection, but they may help prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2 from asymptomatic people. The CDC recommends using them in public settings, as well as practicing social distancing and proper hygiene.

Surgical masks

Surgical masks can’t protect against infection with SARS-CoV-2. Not only does the mask not filter out smaller aerosol particles, but air leakage also occurs through the sides of the mask as you inhale.

N95 respirators

N95 respirators can protect against smaller respiratory droplets, such as those containing SARS-CoV-2. However, the CDC currently doesn’t recommendTrusted Source their use outside of healthcare settings. There are a variety of reasons for this, including:

N95 respirators should be fit-tested in order to be used appropriately. A poor seal can lead to leakage, lowering the respirator’s effectiveness.

Due to their tight fit, N95 respirators can become uncomfortable and stuffy, making them difficult to wear for extended periods of time.

Our worldwide supply of N95 respirators is limited, making it critical that healthcare workers and first responders have ready access to them.

Other effective ways to prevent COVID-19

Remember that there are other effective ways besides using face masks to prevent becoming ill with COVID-19. These include:

Cleaning your hands frequently. Use soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Practicing social distancing. Avoid contact with people who are sick, and stay at home if there are many COVID-19 cases in your community.

Being conscious of your face. Only touch your face or mouth with clean hands.