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

November 24, 2020 | Wellness | Safety | Healthy You

Catherine Kroll demonstrates taking off a face mask safely

Are you overwhelmed by the 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 multiple studies, yes, masks with two or more layers have been shown to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, by preventing respiratory droplets from traveling into the air. COVID-19 is believed to spread mostly through these droplets. Masks are especially effective when used along with other measures such as social distancing and rigorous hygiene practices.

What are the different types of masks?

Here are the primary types of masks or face coverings:

  • Cloth mask - 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 mask 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. See the graphic below for more details at a glance

What's important to know about wearing a mask?

There are a few things to keep in mind:

  • When worn over the nose and mouth, masks provide a barrier to stop droplets from traveling into the air when you talk, sneeze or cough.
  • Using masks and staying more than six (6) feet apart greatly reduces the risk of transmission to others.
  • If you have COVID-19 but are not showing symptoms, a mask can help to protect those around you; if you are healthy, a mask protects you from others who may transmit the virus.

Do I need to wear a mask at PeaceHealth?

Yes, masks are required for all visitors in all facilities. We strongly encourage visitors to bring their own mask. If you do not have one, PeaceHealth will provide a disposable mask upon entry to the facility.

Please be aware, masks with valves, neck gators and bandanas are not allowed for visitors because studies have shown these types of coverings are ineffective in preventing the spread of respiratory droplets.

Why do caregivers 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.

Where can I get more information about masks?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has additional information about how to carefully remove a mask, make a mask and wash a mask. 

The Washington Department of Health has additional information about masks, including masking myths and facts.