After the coronavirus epidemic started in China, the government required everyone to wear masks in public areas. At first I was a bit dubious about this practice...how was a flimsy surgical mask supposed to protect me against this virus? All it seemed to be good for was reminding me that I had garlic for lunch and fogging up my glasses. 🧄🤓
But, as more people started talking about masks, I realized that wearing a mask wasn't just to protect myself from other people; it was to protect other people from me.
We now know that up to 25% of infected people may be asymptomatic and these people can still unknowingly spread the virus with their saliva. Wearing masks helps catch infected droplets so that it does not disperse into the air or onto surfaces that other people might touch.
There is also a psychological benefit from wearing a mask: it shows that we're all in this together and prevents sick people from being stigmatized for wearing a mask.
There are different types of masks and you should choose the type most suited to your circumstance:
N95 masks (aka N95 respirator)
This type of mask helps to protect you against infected people. These masks are made with a filter (typically non-woven material) that meets the N95 NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) air filtration rating, meaning that it filters at least 95% of airborne particles (down to 0.3microns). N95 is the certification in the US; other countries may have different names for the same type of filter (e.g. KN95 in China).
These masks need to be tightly fitted to your face so that the air you're breathing in is the air that has gone through the filtration material of the mask (and not through large cracks/gaps between your face and the mask). If the mask does not fit your face well enough, you could have too many gaps and that would render the mask useless.
These types of masks should be worn by medical staff or workers that have a high chance of being exposed to the virus, and by the people most vulnerable to COVID-19 (e.g. the elderly, people with underlying medical conditions). N95 masks are meant to be disposable, especially if the wearer has been in contact with infected (or suspected) patients. The recommended maximum (continuous) wear time is 8 hours per mask.
Surgical masks (aka Single Use Face Masks)