Prior to March of 2020 you probably never had a reason to don a protective face mask unless you worked in the healthcare industry or another profession that required wearing a medical or surgical face mask.
By now, none of us are strangers to face masks, and we’ve likely all tried different kinds to figure out which are the most comfortable, most effective, and most tolerable facepieces.
While we know masks differ, with some offering higher levels of particulate filtration than others, the general public is limited to wearing masks that aren’t necessary for front line healthcare workers. It’s important to make sure these workers have consistent, reliable access to medical grade masks and respirators so that they can both work toward prevention of the spread as well as protecting themselves while battling COVID-19 case.
The team at Hope Health Supply believes in the effectiveness of masks, and also believes in reserving medical grade masks for health care providers. As such, we offer non-medical masks that still provide superior levels of filtration and work great for users who would prefer the security of a medical-grade mask.
If you’re curious what the differences are between medical and non-medical masks, we can explain. We can also give you a few suggestions for non-medical masks that are comparable to medical grade masks, so you can be certain the mask you wear has the highest level of filtration available in a non-medical mask.
What are the Differences Between Medical and Non-Medical Face Masks?
There are several differences between medical masks, also referred to as surgical masks, and respirators, and non-medical masks.
Fluid barrier and filtration efficiency levels. There are certain levels set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for face coverings that determine whether a mask can provide adequate protection against fluid and/or airborne particles. These filtration levels are set so that medical professionals can be sure they aren’t exposed to infectious disease, bodily fluids, medications, or other hazards while they work. Face masks that are non-surgical and non-medical may or may not meet the fluid barrier and filtration efficiency criteria levels. Surgical masks must meet these levels.
Consideration as a Medical Device. Non-medical and non-surgical masks and respirators are not considered medical devices. Medical devices must conform to certain standards set by the CDC.
- Respirators. N95 respirators are designed to be custom fitted to the wearer’s face and provide superior filtration to other mask types. These masks are used by medical professionals when treating patients with infectious disease. These masks are considered personal protective equipment for medical professionals and frontline workers.
What Are Non-Medical Masks?
Non-medical masks may or may be made for single use or reuse. They are made to be worn by the general public, and are generally worn to protect others (not the wearer) from the passing of respiratory droplets. Some examples of non-medical masks are:
Cloth masks. Cloth masks can be worn by the general public, and are usually made from two breathable pieces of cloth sewn together with two elastic band ear loops. They may or may not have a filter pocket which can hold an additional layer of filtration protection. *Cloth face masks should not have an exhalation valve or vent, and should not be made with less than two layers of fabric to be effective.
Disposable masks. These masks look similar to medical masks or surgical masks, but are usually thinner, 3-ply masks with a polypropylene layer that may or may not have nose clips, and have not been tested to determine if they meet fluid barrier and filtration efficiency standards. *Disposable masks should not be reworn and should be worn by only one user.
- KN95 masks. KN95 masks are masks that work similarly to N95 respirators. These masks are not approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health like the N95 masks, but rather work by filtering up to 95% of aerosol particles, like an N95 mask. *KN95 masks are disposable and meant to be worn by one person only. Additionally, you should know that the CDC states that about 60% of KN95 masks available in the U.S. are counterfeit, so it’s important to make sure that you purchase your KN95 from a reputable dealer, like Hope Health Supply.
Our FDA registration can be found here.
Our KN95 mask registration is located here.
2 Best Face Masks for Medical and Non-Medical Purposes
Curious what medical workers are wearing? Here are the top two face mask options you’ll most likely see a medical professional wearing.
Medical: N95 Respirators
The N95 is the gold standard in respiratory protection for healthcare workers. The N95 is a specialized respirator mask that fits closely on a healthcare worker and protects them from inhaling airborne particles while caring for patients suffering from an infectious disease.
N95 respirators are usually custom fitted to the wearer’s face, so they are highly individualized and should only be worn by the person who was fitted for the particular mask. They should also be disposed of once they’ve been worn by the user. They are not made to be reusable.
N95 masks have the ability to filter up to 95% of all airborne particles, giving these masks some of the highest level of filtration available in a disposable face mask product.
If you want the same level of high filtration as an N95, you can opt for the KN95 mask. The KN95 mask operates similarly to the N95, but usually has a slightly looser fit than a KN95 and attaches to the wearer’s head by means of two elastic ear loops, instead of a headband.
Non-Medical: Surgical Masks
Surgical masks are similar visually to disposable medical masks. These masks are paper, usually several layers thick (at least 2-3) and very breathable. They are expandable to cover the wearer’s nose and mouth and fit any size user. They attach to a person’s head by means of ear loops.
Surgical masks have been tested to ensure they block fluid from the medical worker, and adequately protect against respiratory droplets. While these masks do not create a seal on the worker’s face, they do offer a higher level of protection than a cloth mask.
These masks are disposable, and meant to be worn by one person.
Non-Medical: Disposable Mask
If you’d like to wear a mask that is similar to a surgical mask, you can opt for a non-medical disposable mask. These masks are crafted in a similar fashion to surgical masks, but have not been tested to determine whether they meet the same fluid barrier and particle filtration standards as a surgical mask.
The non-medical disposable masks offered by Hope Health Supply are three-ply construction, hypoallergenic, and feature a hidden metal noseband for easy adjustment. These masks attach to the wearer’s head by means of two elastic ear loops.
While we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, medical masks and N95 respirators should be reserved for healthcare workers and those working on the front lines. These options best protect our healthcare workers and ensure our healthcare system is able to properly care for patients infected with COVID-19.
For the rest of us, there are options that are similar in form and function to the N95 respirator and surgical masks. We can use KN95 respirators and non-medical disposable masks to keep ourselves and others protected and slow the spread of the virus.
We’re all doing our best to help each other and protect one another, and wearing the appropriate mask is a great way to do our part.