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What kind of face mask should you use? Does it matter?

Wellness | Safety | May 18, 2020
nurse and patient wearing masks during a visit
Are you a little overwhelmed by the different choices for face masks? Here are some things to help make things more clear.

Masks are an important part of how we reduce the spread of COVID-19. With so many types of masks, it can be confusing to know which ones are best. 

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about mask use, from PeaceHealth's infection prevention department: 

Do masks really work?

According to recent reviews of various studies, yes, masks have been shown to help reduce the spread, especially when used along with other measures such as social distancing and rigorous hygiene practices. According to experts, you can think of masks as another layer of defense. Read the Annals of Internal Medicine review. 

Do I need to wear a mask at PeaceHealth?

Yes, masks are required for all patients and visitors. We strongly encourage visitors and patients to bring their own mask or cloth face covering when arriving at our facilities.

What if I don't have a mask?

If you don't have your own mask or cloth face covering, PeaceHealth will provide a cloth face covering (courtesy of a generous donor in the community) or a disposable paper mask. 

Is there still a shortage of masks?

Because the Pacific Northwest has done a relatively good job of flattening the curve, supplies of personal protective equipment are in good shape. However, we are continuing our conservation efforts to ensure that our hospitals and clinics have what they need to safely deliver care to our communities.

    What are the different types of masks?

    Here are the primary types of masks or face coverings:

    • cloth face-covering -  this protects others from germs breathed out by the person wearing it.
    • procedure mask - this protects the person wearing the mask from germs in the air.
    • surgical mask - this protects the person wearing the mask from exposure to germs found in droplets in the air.
    • N95 mask or respirator - this mask provides the greatest level of protection to the person wearing the mask.

    What kind of mask should I wear?

    It depends. If you are healthy and don't have underlying conditions, you can wear a cloth face covering to reduce others' exposure to germs you might breathe out. If you care for someone who has or who might have COVID-19, you will want to wear a mask that offers greater protection.

    Why does my nurse wear a different type of mask?

    Nurses, doctors and others may need to wear masks that offer stronger protection, depending on what they're doing. This is especially true if the patient either has or might have COVID-19.

    Are there special guidelines for cloth face coverings?

    Yes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shared a helpful set of instructions and guidelines on cloth face coverings. Be sure to use materials that can be safely laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape.

    What's important to remember when wearing a mask?

    There are a few things to keep in mind:

    • make sure your mask fits snugly against the side of your face.
    • wash or sanitize your hands before you put your mask on.
    • adjust the mask to cover your nose and chin.
    • avoid touching your mask while you're wearing it.

    Learn more about masks, including masking myths from the Washington Department of Health.

    grid showing types of masks and scenarios for use

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