On the 11th of March, WHO’s director general categorized COVID-19 as a pandemic due to its speed and scale of transmission (at the time, 118,000 cases in 114 countries with 4291 deaths). As I am writing this article, there have been 242,191 confirmed cases of the coronavirus infection according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at John Hopkins University. And the death toll has more than doubled since WHO declared this disease to be a pandemic.
You can view the live COVID- 19 tracker/ map on the website of the John Hopkins Corona Virus Research Center. The good news is that there are people recovering in large numbers from the 2019-nCov infection. In the Hubei province alone, which is the epicenter of this pandemic, 57682 people have recovered (at the time of writing this article). Total number of recoveries is around 85,000. So, what does all of this mean for you? It is best to process the situation with a cool head and use caution.
Guide — Best Face Mask for Viruses
Prevention is the best cure, and besides — we literally don’t have any cure for this virus as of now (although there are multiple vaccine trials ongoing). The WHO has published advice to help the general public stay safe from this highly contagious virus. By now, you must know the basics- the worst effects of this virus are observed in senior citizens and those already suffering from chronic diseases (asthma, cancer, diabetes, etc.) or weak immune systems. More than 80% of people diagnosed with the virus only display mild symptoms (fever, coughing, tiredness).
I highly suggest you check out this article on the coronavirus to learn about how it infects the body, symptoms, what preventive measures you can take, etc. Cough and sneeze into your elbow, practice social distancing, frequently wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with some type of soap (doesn’t have to be antibacterial) or alcohol based hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol), don’t make unnecessary trips to countries affected by the virus… you know the drill.
This article is centered around the topic of face masks and how they can help you combat the coronavirus. Many people believe that wearing a mask will guarantee you protection from contracting this virus, but that is simply not true. It only lowers the risk, and in some cases, you might even increase your chances of being infected if you follow incorrect procedures like wearing the same mask for multiple days or not washing your hands before donning/ doffing the mask.
So, which type of mask should you buy? When you go online, there are some masks which are labelled “respirators”. What’s the difference? Both respirators and masks come with different ratings like R95, P100, N95, etc. to denote their particulate filtration efficiency. These are NIOSH (National Institute For Occupational Safety and Health) ratings, and we shall explain what they mean in more detail very soon.
For those of you reading this from Europe, you have a different rating system (for example, the European equivalent of N95 is P2 or FFP2). In South Korea, they have the “KF” rating system with three different standards- KF80, KF94,and KF99. Just to keep things simple, a higher number means that the mask will filter out a larger percentage of microscopic particles from the air you breathe in via its filters. But a larger number isn’t always better, because it also increases the restriction on airflow and causes you to have more difficulty with breathing (really troublesome if you intend to wear the mask for extended periods of time).
Some masks have a relatively smooth outer surface, whereas others have little square or cylindrical shaped elements sticking out on the top. Now you might think those are air filters, but they are actually valves designed to make breathing easier for the wearer compared to masks without valves. So, there’s clearly a whole lot of stuff to talk about when it comes to masks. You also need to watch out for fake masks, because there are a lot of those circulating around online stores at the moment.
Warning: Some people take regular surgical masks, and sell them as “N95” respirators in boxes with made up branding and labels. This is a truly despicable practice, and it causes paranoid/ misinformed people to buy up multiple packs of these so-called “N95” masks for hundreds of dollars. Don’t fall for this trap, make sure you’re only purchasing masks from a reputable manufacturer like 3M (we’ve got a section explaining how you can detect the difference between real and fake respirators).
Understand that there are some really sick people out there who will stop at nothing to make a quick buck. A lot of the mask shortages aren’t due to panic buyers, but hoarders who purchase all the stock so they can later sell it to Chinese citizens at extremely inflated prices. Many retailers are coming up with policies to counteract these hoarders (limitations on how many you can buy, no returns, etc.).
Face Masks Vs Respirators
When you’re shopping for a face mask to protect yourself from viruses like 2019-nCov, there are two main categories to choose from – masks and respirators. They often look similar in appearance, but the certification process and use case varies significantly. For instance, face masks often refer to surgical masks which are used by doctors, surgeons, and other healthcare workers. These are standard personal protective equipment in many hospitals, and are designed mainly to prevent the wearer from transmitting pathogens into their surrounding (like when they cough or sneeze).
Surgical masks have very limited filtration abilities compared to respirators, and don’t really stop a whole lot of viruses from entering your nasal passage. Plus, they leave giant open gaps around the eyebrows, cheeks, and lower chin. This is due to a combination of the shape, structural design , and a basic securing mechanism which typically only consists of two elastic straps.
Respirators on the other hand, are specifically engineered to protect the user’s respiratory system from airborne contaminants such as gases, vapors, pathogens, etc. Some of them are disposable, i.e. the filtration layer is integrated into the mask itself (these look very similar to surgical masks, but are quite a bit thicker and typically feature a 3- panel design). For example, the 3M 9210 is a disposable NIOSH approved N95- rated particulate respirator.
It features a proprietary filtration medium woven into the fabric that will block 95% of all particles larger than 3 microns from getting inside with an adjustable nose clip and specially designed chin tab help this respirator achieve a better seal compared to most surgical masks. It is worth noting that the 3M 9210 is an “unvalved” respirator, which means it is cheaper compared to a model like the 3M 9211+ which is a valved respirator.
Valved respirators have a port build into the filtration medium that opens up in order to help you exhale more easily. The valve is shut when you’re breathing in, so it doesn’t allow harmful particles to pass through. 3M calls their version the Cool Flow Exhalation Valve. In general, valved respirators are more comfortable to wear for extended periods of time because the hot, moisture laden air coming out of your lungs is expelled more easily and doesn’t build up between the respirator and your skin. This means you can breath easier, and the air feels fresher. Plus, there is less fogging if you’re wearing eye protection (or even prescription glasses). Valved respirators are also better for hot and humid climates, like you’d find in India or Africa.
Now, let’s talk about non- disposable respirators, also known as reusable respirators. These are hard masks, and come in two variants- full facepiece (eye + nose +mouth) or half facepiece (nose + mouth). On these masks, you’ll find mounting points for detachable filter cartridges. Reusable respirators are more expensive, but offer greater sealing due to their shape that follows the natural contour of a human face (plus, they have sealing gaskets to guarantee a snug fit). They are also much more versatile, since you can basically swap out one filter type for another depending on the situation.
The downside? They are way more expensive, and you’ve got to keep a supply of spare filters if you wish to use them for several weeks or months. Plus, a reusable respirator is much heavier and harder to wear for extended time periods (several hours in a row). Because they form such an effective seal, they are also very good at trapping in heat which makes you perspire way more than you would while wearing a disposable mask/ respirator.
Primarily intended for people who have already been diagnosed with coronavirus, and are currently in quarantine. A surgical mask won’t prevent healthy people from the virus, since it lacks fine filtration and has mediocre sealing compared to something like a N95 face mask/ respirator. It is designed to keep the virus in, so that you don’t infect others by sneezing or coughing. But if you have nothing else at hand, some protection is better than none.
Disposable non-valved respirators
These can be distinguished from regular surgical masks by their greater thickness and 3- panel design. If worn correctly, N95 respirators will block out at least 95% of all airborne particles above the size of 3 microns. Recommended for folks who are traveling on trains, airplanes, and other forms of public transport. Also used by healthcare workers and caretakers who regularly deal with coronavirus patients.
Disposable valved respirators
Similar protection levels to a non- valved respirator, but more comfortable to wear for extended periods (especially if you are also wearing eye protection since there will be less fogging).
Hard masks with detachable filters, these are available in full- facepiece or half- facepiece configurations and provide the most secure seal to prevent droplets of cough or mucus from coming in contact with your eyes/ nose/ mouth. Reusable respirators are more expensive, and you have to keep purchasing filters. And, they are much less comfortable to wear for extended time periods in comparison to a disposable face mask.
Which Type Of Face Mask To Buy? Reusable vs Disposable
A lot of people get confused by the variety of choices available to them when they go shopping for a face mask (assuming they are still in stock). We’ve discussed the differences in how reusable and disposable face masks/ respirators work, but now I want to tell you which one is actually better for you. One popular argument in favor of disposable masks is the fact that you can simply discard it after the 4 or 5 hours that it spends on your face. You don’t carry all the dirt and potentially harmful residue deposited within its filtration element back into your house, which is supposed to be a clean zone.
If you just purchased a reusable mask, you wouldn’t have to discard it after every single use. But its filters will contain pathogens and other harmful substances. Potentially even coronavirus if an infected individual sneezed or coughed within a 1 meter radius from you while you were wearing the mask. Now if you bring that same mask into the house and hang it up somewhere, the virus might get airborne and infect you eventually. Which is why, it is highly recommended that you disinfect the exterior of the mask with a spray of hydrogen peroxide every time you return home (preferably before you enter inside).
For more serious cleaning ,you can take the face mask itself and clean it in a solution of warm water and disinfectant solution. Anything trapped inside the filters isn’t getting back out, so you only have to get rid of stuff on the outside surface. The reusable filters should last a month or more, unless you live in an area which is really smoggy. So while you spend more upfront and have to do some tedious cleanup on a daily basis, the protection offered to you by a reusable mask is second to none since it can be equipped with everything from N95 to P100 filters (and don’t forget the sealing gasket which ensures a snug fit).
So, in the end, it’s up to personally preference and availability. If no disposable masks are left in stock, you might have to go with a more expensive reusable model such as the 3M 7500. Yes, it is bulky. And you might feel a bit uncomfortable after a couple of hours of wearing such a respirator. But the chances of a tiny coronavirus droplet sneaking inside is really, really low.
Half or Full Facepiece Respirator?
A full facepiece respirator will cost more and feels bulkier. There’s also a lot more weight resting on your face which makes it the less comfortable option. But it protects your eyes, something that a half facepiece respirator fails to do. Yes, you can wear protective goggles in combination with a half facepiece respirator. But that’s another thing you’ve got to remember every time you go out.
Most people don’t like the way a full facepiece respirator looks, it feels as if you’re cosplaying an Area 51 agent preparing to board a crashed alien spaceship. But there are some places where you might want the most comprehensive protection system available, particularly if you’re working closely with infected individuals. Even healthcare professionals don’t wear one of these while treating patients.
Full facepiece respirators are designed primarily for assembly, chemical clean- up, painting, sanding, etc. But hey, it’s a free world and what’s wrong with too many choices? One thing to note is the fact that you might have some trouble fitting prescription glasses underneath one of those full facepiece models. In that case, go for a half facepiece model instead.
What Size Face Mask Do I Need?
Selecting the correct size half or full face respirator can be a bit tricky, but there is a means to roughly estimate your mask size. For this, you’ll need a tape measure. To determine the height of the mask, measure from the middle of your nose to about an inch behind the chin. To get the width, simply measure the distance between right and left cheekbones while passing the tape over the middle of your nose. In both cases, there should be very little slack in the tape.
Wearing a loose mask is almost as bad as wearing no protective equipment, because the outside air can freely mix around with the air between your mouth and the filtration medium. And if the mask is too tight, it can leave nasty impressions on your skin after prolonged use and result in extreme discomfort. Once you’ve got the measurements, compare them with the specifications for the various mask sizes from the manufacturer’s official site. Or, you can visit a local retailer who will find the perfect size mask for your face. 3M claims that their medium size fits 80% of all users.
Industries and healthcare organizations conduct professional fit test in accordance with OSHA and CDC guidelines, but you can conduct a simple seal check of your own at home. Place your hands on the filter mount holes without pressing in too tightly. Now, try to breathe in (negative pressure user seal check). It should feel almost impossible, and if you keep trying the mask will cling even harder to your face because of the suction created between it and your face.
You can also try exhaling really hard (positive pressure user seal check) while blocking the exhaust valve with the palm of your hand, this should move the mask away from your face. If any air leaks between the seal and your skin, you should be able to feel it. If you detect leaks, reposition the straps or adjust their length. And most importantly, follow the user manual for your specific mask model to carry out the manufacturer recommended seal check method. I also recommend you check YouTube to see if the manufacturer has uploaded any videos to demonstrate how your respirator/ mask should be used. For example, 3M has a practical video (below) explaining how to maintain, configure, and seal check their 7500 series of half facepiece reusable respirators.
VIDEO | Fitting Your 3M 7500 Face Respirator
Follow these steps before using a face mask or respirator of any kind:
- Wash your hands clean with soap for at least 20 seconds.
- If you have a beard, shave it off. Getting a proper seal between your skin and the gasket is hard with a giant clump of hair in between. This is especially true for soft disposable face masks which don’t have a whole lot of mounting pressure to begin with.
- Ensure that there are no clothes or jewelry obstructing the mask from sitting on your face.
- Finally, examine the face mask/ respirator to make sure there are no cracks or other visible signs of damage.
The NIOSH Rating System
When you purchase a mask, you need to check if it’s NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) approved. That tells you the mask will actually protect you from airborne disease causing pathogens, unlike surgical masks which only require approval from the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). There are two aspects of each mask that you must examine before deciding whether or not to buy it-
- The classification of its protection type (N, P, and R), and
- The filtration efficiency (95%, 99%, and 99.97 or 100%)
So, you get something like “N95” when you combine the classification with filtration efficiency. N stands for Non- Oil, and 95 means it is 95% efficient at filtering particulate matter from incoming air.
Here’s what different class designations actually mean :
N: Stands for Non-Oil, used in environments where oil based particulates are not present.
R: It is Oil-Resistant, which means you can use these types of filters in work environments with oil particulates that need filtering. But the filter must be changed every shift, depending on the amount and type of oil particles present in the air.
P: This is Oil-Proof, so it can be used for multiple shifts without requiring a filter swap.
N95 masks are used by both industries as well as medical facilities since it provides excellent protection against microbes and tiny dust particles. These masks use particulate filters, as opposed to R and P class masks which use chemical filtration to get rid of oil particles (in combination with particulate filters).
When a manufacturer says their filter is 95% efficient, it means the filter will block 95% of all particles larger than 0.3microns (unit of length equivalent to a millionth of one meter). So why this arbitrary number? Well, particulate filters have the most trouble catching debris of that specific size. Anything smaller actually has a better chance of getting trapped in the filter, same for particles larger than 0.3 microns. This is because filters in a mask don’t exactly work like a net, where if the particle is larger than the holes, it gets caught. Instead, mask/ respirator filter use three different mechanisms to catch dust and pathogens — diffusion, impaction, and interception.
Within your mask, is a mesh of synthetic fibers which are extremely small in diameter. Diffusion is when the particle is so small (<0.1micron) that its trajectory is changed due to hitting gas molecules along the way. This causes the tiniest particles to slow down, or move in a zig-zag pattern as they bounce off air molecules.
Eventually, they get trapped when they come in contact with a fiber. Medium sized particles are trapped via interception, which is when the particle runs smack dab into the middle of a fiber. If the particle is smaller than the diameter of the fiber, it is stopped. Larger particles are not small enough to escape between the fibers, so they “impact” the mesh and get caught. Some filters also use electrostatic forces to attract particles.
Now you might be thinking “all that’s cool, but what does any of this have to do with the arbitrary 0.3micron size that filter manufacturers are so fixated on?”. Well, that’s where Brownian motion comes in. Don’t worry, this won’t turn into a science class. Brownian motion allows us to study the random, erratic movement of microscopic particles within a fluid medium as they are constantly being struck by molecules constituting the fluid itself.
Basically, if the particle is small enough it will move randomly just from collisions with air molecules due to its low weight. This theory comes into action right as you go below a size of 0.3 microns, hence the diffusion technique works so well to catch randomly moving particles. And particles larger than 0.3 microns are caught with conventional sieve-like filtering techniques. But the particles right in the middle, i.e. closest to 0.3 microns are really hard to catch because they manage to evade multiple types of filtration methods (either you optimize a filter type for really small particles, or large particles). Contrary to popular belief, your face mask won’t miss particles that are 0.1 microns in size. Well it will miss a few, but it is still very capable of catching those. The most penetrative type are particles exactly around the 0.3 micron number which is why you observe lowest filter efficiency at that point. In fact, both particles larger and smaller than 0.3 microns are filtered at an efficiency greater than 99%.
According to this article published in The New England Journal of Medicine on 20th of February, electron microscope scans showed the novel coronavirus to be around 0.125 microns in size (on average). The largest specimens were 140 nanometers, or 0.14 microns in diameter. As we explained earlier, a good old N95 mask should have no trouble catching particles of this size. If you want proof, check out this study conducted by researchers from the University of Edinburgh. It attempted to measure the efficacy of face masks against air pollution. Basically, they ran diesel exhaust through the mask filter and recorded the number of particles that passed through the filer. Later, they combined this figure with the baseline number of particles to get an efficiency figure. The CPC 3007 (condensate particle counter from TSI instruments) they used recorded particles as small as 0.007nm, which is between 10 to 20 times smaller than the coronavirus. The study tested all sorts of filtration mediums, everything from cotton handkerchiefs to industrial- grade 3M dust filters. A 3M 8812 disposable mask they tested (rated P1, equivalent to N90) managed to score an efficiency of 96.6%.
Is there something better than N95?
Yes, of course. But the CDC and other organizations recommend that you purchase a N95 mask to stay safe from the coronavirus. Even though there are masks out there with even better filtration efficiency, like the N99. So why aren’t those recommended? Better yet, why not get a P100 which is pretty much the highest tier of protection possible? Well, there are a couple of reasons for that. Firstly, N95 masks are cheaper (or at least they used to be until everything went out of stock). P100 and R95 masks use chemical filtration in addition to particulate filters, which makes them more expensive. On top of that, higher efficiency filters are harder to breathe through. This may not be an issue for a healthy young person, but pregnant women and senior citizens might have issues getting through the day while wearing a highly restrictive P100 mask. And since you aren’t trying to filter harmful paints and pesticides out of the air while strolling through your urban neighborhood, you most certainly don’t need an oil resistant/ proof mask.
I found this research paper published on the 13th of May, 2008 which examines and compares the filtration performance of both N95 and N99 facepiece respirators. The masks were tested versus 3 different virus aerosols (enterobacteriophages MS2 and T4 and Bacillus subtilis phage) as well as ultrafine particles (inert NaCl aerosol). Three different flow rates were used(30, 85, and 150L/ min), which is the rate at which air is sucked in through the filtration element of the mask. For reference, the NIOSH-42C FR84 certification standard specifies a flow rate of 85L/ min (for N95 class filters). In this study, you can see that that both filters demonstrated similar filtration performance (especially at a flow rate of 30 L/min) with the N99 showing a higher pressure drop. This indicates more inhalation resistance compared to a N95 mask. The pressure drop numbers for N99 masks in the study are as follows- 10.67±0.58 mm of H2O in model A and 13.00±1.00 mm of H2O in model B. For the N95 mask they tested, it was 7.57±0.75 mm of H2O. All of these figures are for a constant flow rate of 85L/ min across the board. Variance aside, a N99 respirator can produce anywhere from 40 to 70 percent more inhalation resistance compared to an N95 respirator (in exchange for slightly better filtration). If you’re purchasing the mask for someone with breathing problems or a child, I suggest you consider a N95 model because it is easier to live with. The N99 models offer slightly better protection for a lot more breathing resistance. If you suffer from any of the following conditions, get a N95 mask:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Cardio-pulmonary problems
N95 vs P100 — How they Compare?
Another study I found compared N95 against P100 to test their efficiency at catching viruses. This test used the MS2 virus, which is a nonpathogenic bacteriophage with an average diameter of around 27nm. For reference, the novel coronavirus diameter ranges between 60 to 140nm (it is definitely of the larger viruses you can find). The study, which was conducted back in 2013, found that both filters either met or exceeded their efficiency ratings. Mean penetration of MS2 virus was 2% and 0.03% respectively under all flow conditions. That may not seem like much (only a difference of 1.97 percent), but 2 is a pretty large number compared to 0.03. And we all know that it doesn’t get any better than P100 because these are rated to block over 99.97% of all particles 3 microns and above.
Not only does it maintain that efficiency with larger particles, but it also managed to block 99.97% of MS2 viruses which are significantly smaller than 3 microns (20nm = 0.2 micron). But then again, you will find it much harder to breathe for extended periods of time through a P100 respirator compared to a cup shaped disposable N95 mask. Once again, it all comes down convenience vs performance, and the matter of availability/ price. I know, you can’t put a price tag on life. But in reality, some of these masks are selling at over 700% their original MSRP and when you buy multiple units, the cost starts to add up pretty fast.
Even caretakers and doctors working with corona patients are using N95 masks. But if you can’t find a N95 mask, go for whatever other model is available because they will all do a similar job at protecting you. A P100 will do everything a N95 does, and more. But it will be harder to breath through for longer periods of time. How long do you intend to wear your mask? If its only 1 or 2 hours at a time and you absolutely need the best protection possible no matter the cost, go for a P100 or R100 mask.
Can Masks Actually Protect You From The Coronavirus?
Since we’ve proven that even a bog standard N95 disposable face mask can actually block particles smaller than the virus itself, lets talk about the real- world effectiveness of these things. As a matter of fact, even if the masks didn’t block particles that small, they would still act as an effective barrier against coronavirus. Why? Because the virus rarely travels into your respiratory tract all by itself. It is usually riding a droplet consisting of body fluids expelled into the atmosphere when an infected person coughs or sneezes. This droplet is large enough to be blocked even by a surgical mask.
In the real world, your mileage is going to vary because every face is different which means some gap will remain between the mask and your skin. Outside air will seep in through this gap, increasing the chances of a few virus particles making their way into your nose or mouth with each passing hour you spend outside. As a civilian, you probably don’t have access to an expensive fit-test machine. But you can follow the basic procedures we outline in our “fit testing” section, these are designed to be performed by anyone at home. All it takes is a couple minutes of your time to ensure that the mask is sitting properly on your face. Don’t forget to dispose of the face mask after you return home. And if you’re using a reusable model, make sure to disinfect it properly before taking it into the house.
The Argument Against Face Masks
If you’ve been watching the news lately, you’ll find that a lot of channels advise against healthy civilians wearing masks. They say it won’t make a significant difference since the average person doesn’t even know what’s the difference between an N95 and a regular surgical mask. Plus, if you use a disposable mask for 2 or 3 days straight, you might actually increase your chances of getting infected as opposed to not wearing a mask at all. And a lot of men tend to wear masks over their beards. This greatly reduces the effectiveness of the seal resulting in outside air flowing into your nose and mouth, bypassing the filter entirely.
All these are valid arguments against the effectiveness of an N95 mask in the hands of uninfected, healthy civilians. Some medical professionals also claim that during this time masks should be reserved for healthcare personnel working in hospitals, since you wouldn’t want to visit a sick doctor who are themselves suffering from COVID-19.
But you can mitigate a lot of the aforementioned issues simply by performing a couple days of basic research. Like reading this article, and many other which talk about the differences between various types of masks and what the ratings mean. You should also practice proper donning/ doffing procedures. Wash your hands for 20 seconds before putting on the mask, only touch it by the straps while removing, discard the disposable mask after each daily use, etc. And make sure the seal isn’t being blocked by clothes, jewelry, facial hair, etc.
If you don’t have access to a proper respirator, even a good old surgical mask will do something in the way of reducing your chances of getting infected. If you know you won’t be going outside all that much, you may not need any type of mask. Still, it’s a good precaution to take if you’ve got infected people in the house, or visitors. You never know if someone is sick, some people don’t experience the symptoms for more than a week.
Top Respirator Models From 3M
The 6000 series
Available in both half, and full- facepiece configurations, this is a ruggedly built reusable respirator capable of accepting a wide variety of filters. It offers protection from pretty much everything- gases, vapors, silica, and in this case, the coronavirus (make sure you equip it with the right filter type first). It has an assigned protection factor (APF) of 10, which means that no more than 1/10th of all contaminants the wearer is exposed to will leak inside the mask. An APF of 100 means a leakage of just 1 percent. The APF was created by OSHA to denote the level of respiratory protection provided by a respirator in the workplace. You can learn more about it here.
There are 6 different models spread across 3 different sizes :
- Half Face
- Small: Model 6100 (half face)
- Medium: Model 6200 (half face)
- Large: Model 6300 (half face)
- Full Face
- Small: Model 6700
- Medium: Model 6800
- Large: Model 6900
You can fit the 2000, 6000, 5000, or 7000 series of filters on this mask. Different sizes are color- coded, and they all use the bayonet connection type (filters can be quickly attached or removed with just a quarter turn). A 4 point harness keeps the mask secured to your face, and a thick sealing gasket reduces air leakage. The head straps are easy to adjust, and you can easily disassemble the mask for cleaning.
Visibility and weight balance are enhanced with a swept- back cartridge design. The full facepiece version features a single, large polycarbonate lens which facilitates an excellent field of view. The adjustment straps feel more robust compared to the half face version, and there’s an anti fog coating on the lens. If you wear prescription glasses, I recommend you also order the spectacle kit which is an accessory for the 6000 series of full facepiece masks. You can take the kit to your optometrist; it includes a specially designed frame and mounting bracket.
The 6500 series
Only available in half- facepiece configuration, the 6500 series has two different design variants- the 6500QL, and the regular 6500 series. What’s the difference between the two? The “QL” stands for Quick Latch, which allows you to partially remove the mask from your face without having to undo the head harness. This is really useful for those wearing hard hats and other gear because you just push a tab, and the mask drops down to neck level. No need to remove all your other gear just to take the mask off. If you’re purchasing this mask for the coronavirus, this feature really isn’t all that useful. You might wish to go with the regular 6500 series instead because it’s slightly cheaper. The base 6500 models are also lighter than the QL versions. As with all other 3M masks, there are 3 different sizes- small, medium, and large. One of the unique aspects of the 6500 series is its special low profile design which enables a wider field of view compared to 6000 or 7500 series half face models.
The 7500 series
Just like the 6000 series, this is available in both half and full- facepiece configurations. They both fit in a similar manner, and support the same filters. But there are a few design differences which I would like to highlight. The 7500 series is more comfortable, because it uses silicone for the centerpiece that is supported by your nose. The 6000 series uses elastomeric rubber which is similar in feel, but not quite as soft as silicone. The use of silicone instead of elastomeric rubber in the 7500 series of masks allows you to experience less discomfort over longer durations of usage. Another advantage of using silicone is the fact that it’s inert, and won’t cause any allergic reactions or skin irritation. And finally, the silicone facepiece tends to last longer than elastomeric rubber.
The 7500 series of masks also feature adjustable head straps, something the 6000 series lacks. You can only adjust the neck straps on the 6000 series half- facepiece models (full face 6000 series models have adjustable head straps on the top too). You can replace certain parts in the 7500 series of facemasks to keep them functioning for longer. On the 6000 series, fewer parts are replaceable which causes it to have a shorter lifespan. You pretty much use it until it breaks down, after which you throw it away. One more difference is in the exhalation valve design, it points downwards in the 7500 series while in the 6000 series it points to the front. This doesn’t really cause any difference in performance, but it prevents dust particles blowing into your face from your own breath in certain workplace conditions (not really a factor when you’re purchasing the mask for coronavirus).
Which Face Mask Brand Is The Best?
3M is the most well- known/ reputable brand when it comes to NIOSH certified respirators. They make both reusable, as well as disposable face masks and we checked out some of their most popular models in the previous section of this article. The company was founded back in 1902, in Two Harbors, Minnesota. Originally called Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing, it used to mine mineral deposits for grinding wheel abrasives.
Later they started making sandpaper products, eventually branching out into household necessities such as scotch cellophane tape and masking tape. They currently make some of the best NIOSH certified face masks in the world, used globally by medical professionals from all countries. Another company you should check out is Cambridge Mask, based in UK. They claim military grade filtration technology in their respirators, and primarily make disposable face masks for the general public as opposed to 3M which focuses on the industrial/ healthcare market. You can also check out this list of NIOSH — approved N95 respirators (model + manufacturer), posted by the CDC.
The Reality Of Trying To Purchase A Face Mask during the Covid19 Pandemic
If there’s two things the world needs more of right now, it’s face masks and toilet. Ok, maybe the latter isn’t all that important and has become more of a social media meme than anything else. But if there’s one thing you can be sure about, it’s the fact that we’re facing an acute shortage of face masks right now. Specifically, N95 and higher rated masks which are NIOSH certified (not surgical masks, those don’t provide the same level of protection). Things have gotten to a point where the largest hospital in Iowa is now directing its staff to reuse their face masks. Any face mask worn by someone who wasn’t treating infected patients is apparently cleared to be used by another person within the same hospital. Waiting for 3M masks takes too long, so there are these DIYers in Montana who are creating their own reusable face masks using 3D printers. And then, there’s the story of this fashion designer who is now making reusable face masks out of silk.
Clearly things aren’t looking very good. The United States Surgeon General has urged civilians to stop purchasing all the N95 masks, because “they are not effective in preventing general public from catching coronavirus”. Even the CDC doesn’t recommend N95 respirators for anyone other than healthcare workers. This probably has less to do with the actual effectiveness of the masks, and is more about ensuring that the masks go to healthcare workers instead of normal people.
If you think about it, the healthcare workers really do need the protection more than those of us who aren’t infected. But this isn’t about now, it is about what could happen in the next 2 or 3 months. Maybe more will get infected, and you will actually need a mask to even walk outside the house. We are already in the middle of a giant mask shortage, and it doesn’t look like production will meet demand until at least a few months. Besides, there are people who don’t want to take even the slightest risk when it comes to protection for themselves and their family.
You can’t tell people masks don’t work when they are literally designed to prevent airborne pathogens from entering your respiratory system. Actual implementation is another thing, many people won’t follow the recommended procedures while wearing these masks. And in their case, it won’t do much. But that’s why I am making articles like this one, to inform you about the different types of masks and what you need to do before/ after wearing them.
So, how do you actually get hold of a N95 respirator? It’s pretty hard to find disposable respirators at your local hardware store/ safety equipment supplier, and most of the stock on sites like Amazon are also gone. Recently, the CEO of 3M said that their masks “shouldn’t be showing up in stores” and instead going to healthcare workers on the frontline. Just a couple days ago, Target apologized for selling 3M N95 respirators in a Seattle store, and pledged to donate them over to the Washington State Department Of Health.
There are a few people selling 3M masks on craigslist and eBay, but I advice you stay alert while purchasing because a lot of them are Chinese clones of popular models like the 3M 6000 series. There are still some sites online where you can purchase reusable respirators, like the 3M 7500. One of these sites is PKSAFETY, and you can actually read some recent reviews on the product page which means people are still buying these masks from there. From what research I did, it might actually be easier to purchase a full- face reusable respirator with P100 filters than a reusable N95 mask. You should also visit the official 3M website and check out their store locator page which also accepts zip codes to give you the nearby stores that sell their masks.
Manufacturing Face Masks | How Hard Is It?
During times of war and calamity, giant manufacturers often switch their tooling and repurpose personnel to create equipment for the emergency at hand. For example, back in World War II, General Motors was making guns and tanks to support the United States as well as other allied nations. Even though direct American involvement in the global conflict came at a later stage, many experts would agree that the power of American manufacturing is a large contributor towards Allied victory.
Back to current day — the coronavirus scare has taken over the entire world, and UK prime minister Boris Johnson has asked luxury carmaker Rolls Royce to make health equipment, like masks and ventilators in order to aid the National Health Service deal with equipment shortages. Now, it is quite a logistical challenge to switch from making jet engines and turbocharged V8s to N95 respirators.
The UK government is also asking Ford and Dyson to contribute towards the manufacturing of critical medical equipment. China is now making 200 million masks daily, which is 20X more than what they made at the beginning of February. This is possible because factories that previously manufactured shoes and iPhones have now retooled to create masks instead. Even diaper manufacturers have joined the fray.
We can certainly live without new shoes and fancy phones, but masks are critical to help both civilians as well as healthcare workers survive this pandemic. These are interesting times; certain industries are looking at projections of massive reductions in profits. Meanwhile, you have stories like that of a startup mask company which was struggling to stay in business until the Coronavirus came along.
So, exactly what goes into making a mask? What I have managed to gather from my research is that it’s apparently pretty hard to create a N95 certified mask (or equivalent). Because out of the 200 million masks being pumped out on a daily basis in China, only 600 thousand are N95 masks. Even though provincial regulators have ramped up the rate at which licenses are being granted to new factories, it is quite hard to find source materials for N95 respirators.
The inner filtration layer of a particle filter, like the ones used in masks, requires a unique fabrication method known as “Melt Blowing”. Polymers with very specific thermoplastic behaviors are chosen for this process- polypropylene, polyesters, polyurethanes, etc. This process creates the nano-scale fiber meshes you find within a mask filter. These fibers are similar in diameter to the particles they are trying to catch (less than a fraction of a nanometer in diameter).
To create melt blown fibers, a computer extrudes molten polymer through extremely tiny nozzles which are surrounded by a stream of high speed blowing gas. The result is a randomized mesh of nano fibers which can then be used for a variety of particulate filtration tasks in multiple industries. In the case of N95 masks, each individual strand of fiber has a diameter under 1 micron. For reference, the coronavirus itself has a diameter of 125nm or 0.125 microns.
There is a massive global shortage of melt- blown fabric for usage in mask manufacturing plants, partly due to significantly increased demand, but also due to the difficulties involved in creating and certifying the tiny fiber meshes suitable for use in medical respirators. The machine that creates melt-blown fabric for respirators can cost over $4.23 million per unit. Now, creating these fibers is really hard but creating the machines is even harder because they have to be manufactured with extremely tight tolerance values.
You can imagine how much precision is required to stretch 1micron fibers using a stream of hot air. The typical human hair is 75 microns in diameter. An entire line of machines is needed to create these fabrics, and manufacturing such machines takes at least 5 to 6 months. There are only a handful of companies in the world capable of making the hand-drilled die tips that go into these machines.
Melted polymer is extruded out of these die tips, where a precise jet of hot air turns it into really thin strand of fiber, sort of like cotton candy. With more and more investment being poured into this sector, we can expect improvements in manufacturing and logistics which might allow us to pump out respirators and masks at a faster rate.
Busting Some Coronavirus Myths
There’s plenty of good, reliable information from trusted sources if you have some time to spare. The WHO, CDC, National Health Service (UK), and FDA are equipped with data from peer reviewed researches and well- accepted scientific analysis. Unfortunately, all this worldwide panic has also resulted in the rise of several fake “facts” regarding coronavirus. Like blogs/ social media posts which claim you’ll be cured of the virus if you gargle with warm salt water. So in this section, we’ll take a look at some of the myths surrounding the coronavirus disease. Some of these are half- truths, some are partially rooted in science, others are absolute nonsense.
Myth number 1: Hot and humid climates stops the growth of Covid-19
This one is extremely easy to debunk. All you’ve got to do is look at the countries with the most infected cases, and you’ll find Iran up there in the top 10. Italy and Spain are both Southern European countries, not exactly hot places when compared to India or Africa but they sure aren’t as cold as Russia or Britain. And they are both in the top 5 when it comes to cases of coronavirus infections. Even if you don’t believe this to be any form of evidence against the claim that coronavirus doesn’t spread in hot and humid climates, there is no scientific research backing that claim.
Trump delivered a speech in the white house on Feb 6, in which he talked about the coronavirus. One of the things he mentioned was his chat with the Chinese premier, Xi Xinping and how Xi believed that the coronavirus would be killed by the summer heat starting around April. Some considered it naive optimism, others felt he was spreading misinformation which might have dangerous consequences. Either way, the WHO has made sure to debunk this myth by stating on their official website “regardless of climate, adopt protective measures if you live in, or travel to an area reporting Covid-19”. And that’s exactly what we should do- take precautionary measures no matter where we live, because the coronavirus is extremely contagious, and the full extent of its destructive abilities are yet to be unraveled.
It is true that there are a couple studies which show a correlation between warm weather and decreasing transmission rates of the virus. Like this paper published by researchers based in Beijing, and another study whose results were reported by Bloomberg news. But it should be noted that neither study has been reviewed in depth by other researchers, and hence it shouldn’t be taken into consideration when designing countermeasures for the virus. Some of the theories claim that transmission rates for the virus will be reduced because people contract the disease via droplets released when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
One of the persons with this theory is Dr. Alan Evangelista, who’s a microbiology and virology professor at the St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia. Evangelista seems to have conducted his own research which showed that viral droplets should evaporate faster and float in the air longer in drier weather. But in humid conditions they will grow larger and fall out of the air quickly. It is up to you to decide if you wish to believe his findings, because most reputable medical sources like the WHO haven’t produced any documents that support these theories. I suggest you stay alert, and take appropriate measures no matter how hot/ cold it is where you live.
Myth number 2: Restroom hand dryers are effective at killing the virus
Nope, not really. I am not really sure how this myth was created, but it is a fact that drying your hands with a jet dryer in a public restroom actually INCREASES your chance of catching the virus by severalfold. Jet dryers which blow air really fast over your hands also suck in bacteria, dust, viruses, etc. from the surrounding which is then blown all over your hand. If you are infected, all those viruses on your hand are now blowing up to 10 or 12 feet away from the dryer and bystanders are sure to be infected. A warm air dryer is much safer, since it doesn’t blow air at high speeds. And the good old paper towel is even safer. So the next time you’re at a public washroom, stay away from the dryer and use a towel instead. Oh, and I saw some posts on social media with people blowing hot air into their noses with a hair dryer. Please don’t do that, it’s really bad.
Myth number 3: Eating garlic will protect you from the virus
Now, a lot of people actually believe this to be true because garlic is known to have anti- microbial properties. But a virus is a completely different organism when compared to other microbes like bacteria. By some accounts, it isn’t even considered to be alive. Besides, there is zero evidence to suggest that eating garlic will kill the virus. So don’t get your hopes up.
Myth number 4: The coronavirus only affects older people
Not true, older people and people with pre-existing conditions (mainly chronic diseases like asthma) are more susceptible to becoming severely ill. But younger people can also get infected, it’s just that they have way fewer chances of becoming severely ill. Besides, just because you will get away easier doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take precautions. You are a potential carrier for the virus, and there’s no telling how many people you could potentially infect if you were to catch the disease. Your own family, friends, staff at the hospital, other patients at the hospital (people who aren’t even there for the virus), you risk infecting them all by not taking the proper precautionary measures. So no matter your age, take this threat seriously and make sure to follow proper hand hygiene. And don’t forget social distancing- it is extremely important to reduce the transmission rates of this virus.
Myth number 5: Someone is going to come up with an antibiotic that kills the virus
Antibiotics only work on bacteria, not viruses. So nope, there can’t be any miracle antibiotic to kill this virus. And you shouldn’t be taking antibiotics on your own expecting that it will the virus. Antibiotics are however useful for treating co- infections and certain symptoms caused by the virus, so you might be given antibiotics if you’re admitted to the hospital.
Myth number 6: Covid-19 is no more dangerous than the common flu
One of the most prevalent myths, it gained popularity because both the common flu as well as nCov-2019 have similar symptoms- aches, fever, runny nose, coughing, etc. Both the flu and nCov-19 can lead to more severe conditions like pneumonia. But the flu isn’t nearly as contagious as the novel coronavirus (even though it too is a type of coronavirus). Besides, our bodies have zero built- in immunity to nCov-2019 as of right now since it is totally new.
There are no medicines for this virus, which makes it even more dangerous. Plus, the major risk isn’t that you’ll die from the virus. Over 80 percent of people infected with it show mild symptoms. But its mortality rate is between 1 and 3 percent, while that of the common flu is around 15 to 20 times lower. And that’s with only a small portion of the global population being infected.
Nobody knows what will happen if it spreads even more rapidly. The healthcare systems of many countries are already overwhelmed with cases of the coronavirus, with doctors having to pick and choose who they will treat. And even people who aren’t infected are indirectly affected, because all the ER rooms and beds are filled up so if there’s a patient being admitted for other reasons, they can’t get treatment on time.
Myth number 7: Parcels from China can spread the virus
While it’s true that the virus can survive on various surfaces such as metal, plastic, wood, paper, etc. for hours or even days, there is no evidence to suggest that the virus can live for weeks during shipping at ambient temperatures on a parcel.
Myth number 8: The outbreak started because someone just had to eat bat soup
Nope, the virus didn’t emerge from a vat of soup. A lot of the early cases were linked to the same wet market in Wuhan where animal carcasses and meat are sold, but it didn’t emerge from soup. The virus did in fact originate from bats, and probably spilled over into humans through an intermediary carrier (suspected to be pangolins). Its genome is in fact similar to that of the SARS virus from 2002- 2003, which also originated from bats. But yeah, nobody really knows where the first case of this infection happened from bat to man. And no, it wasn’t created in some Chinese lab as a secret bio-weapon.
Conclusion : What’s the Best Face Mask for Viruses?
Practice caution, and stay alert. Panic solves nothing, it only leads to the widespread outbreak of rumors and false information. Read up on facts from authorized and well respected sources, stock up on food and perishables. Buy N95 masks if you feel like you need it, because there is a massive shortage of masks right now and even healthcare professionals/ caretakers are being forced to reuse their disposable masks by storing them in paper bags.