There are two types of N95 masks, the 8511 and the 1860 styles.
The one on the top is a standard workplace 8511 type mask, the one one the bottom is also an N95 mask. It is a 1860S type, and is FDA Cleared for use as a surgical mask. It also helps protect against certain airborne biological particles and is Fluid resistant and disposable.
N95 masks designed for “contaminated environments” (3M 8511), only filter particulates as you “inhale”. The exhale from this series of N95 masks are vented, by design, to breathe “straight out” without filtration. The 3M 8511 masks are not the ones recommended as PPE for the coronavirus. These and others with the “valve” are only meant as workplace PPE and not for medical use.
The 3M 1860(S) and those like it are the recommended PPE for protection against the coronavirus.
With that in mind, here are a few links to some studies. They compare the effectiveness of N95 masks and actual medical masks. Also included is one that compares cloth masks vs surgical masks as well.
- N95 Respirators vs Medical Masks
- Surgical Mask vs N95 Respirator for Preventing Influenza
- Surgical masks as good as respirators
- Cloth Mask vs. Surgical Mask
When to use them
Surgical Masks: these masks are designed and approved for STERILE environments. They should only be used by Medical practitioners to ensure they have an uninterrupted supply.
N95 1860(S): these masks, and those like them, are the recommended PPE for protection against the Coronavirus. These should be left to the frontline workers so they can continue to do their jobs.
Cloth Masks: Findings suggest that cloth masks should be used by healthy individuals. Those who “may” come into contact with someone who has the virus, to prevent droplet transmission from infected individuals. They are better than no mask at all. When you are in an “at-risk” environment where physical distancing is not easily accomplished.
Some rumours state wearing a mask puts you at risk. I’m not going to try to list them here. Google it if you want. There are “fact-checker sites that verify the information. There are at least two I am aware of in Canada and one for sure in the US…
Wearing a mask is to keep “you” from infecting others. If you are wearing a mask and you cough, there is little chance of you spraying infectious droplets all over everyone around you. Your mask, regardless if it is cloth, medical, or N95 will catch and stop those droplets from being sprayed onto others. Wearing a mask reduces your chances of being infected to a very low probability when “everyone” in a room is wearing one.
The simple truth is that wearing a mask has been proven to reduce your chances of either contracting COVID, or spreading it. There is a place for masks in this pandemic. It is not 100% but nobody with a brain is claiming that.
It’s a tool and protective measure just as the following are:
- Practice physical distancing
- Practice good hygiene: wash hands often for at least 20 seconds, cover coughs and sneezes, and avoid touching your face.
- Monitor for symptoms: cough, fever, shortness of breath, runny nose or sore throat.
- Self-isolate: in Alberta, if you have any symptoms it is legally-required for 10 days.
- Take the COVID-19 self-assessment to access testing.