Wear the N95 mask or an alternative; but just wear one
Dear Dr. Kelly: I have a surgical mask but my friend has an N95 mask and says her’s is better. What is the difference between the two and does one really offer better protection against COVID-19 than the other?
Dr, Kelly. That is a great question and as usual, it’s not a simple answer. First and foremost, everyone should wear a mask every day when they leave their house. As shelter-in-place is relaxed, masks become more important than ever. Recent evidence shows that wearing a mask is even more important than the 6-foot rule.
In states where people wear masks, the curve is flattening faster. You are not making a political statement by not wearing a mask, you are endangering yourself and others around you. I compare it to stopping at stop lights. If you ignore the traffic rules, you endanger yourself and others in the intersection.
If you ignore the pandemic rules, you endanger yourself and your neighbors on Key Biscayne. Everyone needs to wear a mask every day, now more than ever.
But what kind of mask to wear? At the very least, wear a homemade covering, bandana, or scarf. They provide protection to both the user and others around them by preventing the transmission of large droplets. While not as effective as commercial masks, they definitely provide protection.
Surgical masks or procedural masks provide added protection compared with homemade coverings. They do a better job at filtering out large particles than homemade coverings. Unfortunately, surgical masks are not designed to filter smaller particles such as the actual COVID-19 virus. They also fit loosely at the sides, which allows other potential entry points.
The best protection -- the N95 mask -- is designed to filter 95% of small particles, such as viruses. The pore size of their filters is smaller, and they have a tight fit around the sides. They need to be sized properly to the wearer’s face to be most effective. Because they are purposely designed to prevent small particle transmission, N95 masks provide the most protection.
So which type of mask should you wear?
I think you should wear the best mask you can get. Initially, we wanted to reserve the N95 masks for health care workers, but they are becoming more readily available to the public now. If you can’t get the N95, wear a standard surgical mask. And if you can’t get that, wear a homemade mask or other covering.
While your girlfriend is right about which mask offers the best protection, the most important thing is to wear a mask, any mask, every day.
About Dr. Kelly
Dr. Kelly is a board-certified Plastic Surgeon and partner in both Miami Plastic Surgery and MPS MedSpa. He has been in practice over 25 years and has been recognized by his peers both nationally and internationally as one of the best plastic surgeons in the United States. In addition to being an expert on Cosmetic Surgery, his practice encompasses the entire spectrum of non-invasive treatments such as Botox, fillers, CoolSculpting, ultrasound, lasers and radiofrequency.
He also believes in giving back to our community, having served on the Village Council for eight years and volunteering as a coach for our youth sports programs.
You can email him questions at email@example.com.