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COVID-19 and the Use of Face Masks

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COVID-19 and the Use of Face Masks

7 min read


So many contradicting information available about the use of masks to prevent COVID-19 has left most people confused. Read the article to know about these masks in detail.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Published At April 14, 2020
Reviewed AtFebruary 2, 2023

A new strain of Coronavirus hit the entire world and resulted in the deaths of thousands of people worldwide. The infection caused by this virus (COVID-19) has been reported to resulted in mild respiratory illness to breathing difficulties such as, pneumonia, and respiratory failure. While scientists and doctors were working against time to find a cure for this deadly virus, there were a lot of misconceptions about the possible ways to prevent this infection from doing rounds.

There are a lot of talks about the benefits of face masks in preventing this infection, which has resulted in people around the world rushing to pharmacies to get their hands on any type of mask that is available. This has resulted in a shortage of masks and other protective equipment for the healthcare industry. But are you sure that these masks are even protecting you against this virus? And do all types of masks provide equal protection? Read this article and decide for yourself.

Is It Necessary to Wear a Mask If You Do Not Have Symptoms?

Initially, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) suggested that face masks should be only worn by:

  1. Healthcare professionals.

  2. People who are sneezing or coughing.

  3. People who are caring for a sick person.

But later the CDC and many government officials around the world had asked the general public to wear a mask or that covers their mouth and nose.

Why Is CDC Asking People to Wear Face Covers?

COVID-19 can also spread from people who do not show any symptoms. It has been found that 25 % of infected people might not show any symptoms and can transmit the infection a couple of days before they develop symptoms.

This pre-symptomatic transmission has made the CDC ask the general public to cover their nose and mouth when in public. This is why it has become mandatory to use a face cover when you step out of the house. So let us first understand the different types of masks out there.

What Are the Types of Face Masks Used for COVID-19?

The general types of masks that are being used against COVID-19 are:

  1. N95 respirator.

  2. Surgical mask.

  3. Cloth or homemade mask.

Cloth or Homemade Masks:

CDC recommends wearing cloth face masks like homemade masks while going to public places where maintaining a distance of 6 feet from others is not possible. The recommendation includes:cloth or home made masks

You can also wear cloth face masks like homemade masks while going to public places along with it you may need to maintaina social distance of six feet from others. The recommendation includes:

  • Wearing masks made from cloth in areas where there are greater chances of community-based transmissions, such as supermarkets, hospitals, and pharmacies.

  • Avoid making a child under the age of two years wear a mask, as they will not be able to remove it when needed.

  • It is also not advisable to make a person who is unconscious or has breathing difficulties, a physically challenged patients, or any other person who is physically unfit to remove the mask on their own.

  • Healthcare workers and medical first responders should not use homemade masks while on duty. If they do, they should do it along with a face shield that covers the entire face.

Fabric to Use:

Make sure you use a clean fabric to make a mask and always wash and dry it under the sun before stitching it. Doctors recommend using a fabric that, when held up against a bright light, does not pass a lot of light through it. Cotton fabric from a pillowcases or 100 % cotton shirts can be used.

Some sources say that a vacuum cleaner bag can be used. But it is highly difficult to breathe through vacuum cleaner bag material, so it is not recommended. And avoid piling up layers of fabric, as it can again make breathing difficult. You should be able to breathe properly without feeling suffocated while wearing a face cover.

How Should They Be?

The homemade mask should:

  1. Snugly fit against the sides of your face.

  2. Be comfortable.

  3. Be properly secured with ties or elastics.

  4. Include two to three layers of fabric.

  5. Not restrict breathing.

  6. Be able to wash and dry.

  7. Maintain its shape and structure when washed and dried.


  • As these masks can be made from cloth that is commonly available in anybody’s house, they can be made as many as needed.

  • It lowers the risk of individuals who are infected but have not yet developed symptoms from spreading the virus.

  • It provides a certain degree of protection when social distancing cannot be maintained.

  • It may provide some protection against the virus, which, along with proper hand washing techniques and social distancing, is ideal for the general public.


  • It is not as effective as surgical or N95 respirators and may provide a false sense of security.

  • A homemade mask is no replacement for proper hygiene and social distancing. Washing your hands properly and maintaining safe distances from others are still the most effective.

Surgical Masks:

Surgical Masks

Otherwise called procedure or medical masks. These are disposable or single-use masks that loosely cover the nose, mouth, and chin. They are made from paper or non-woven fabric, and are rectangular in shape and have a metal strip at the top, which can be shaped to fit the nose tightly. Elastic bands or ties are used to hold these masks in place.


If used properly, they are used to:

  • Block large-particle respiratory droplets or spatter that may contain viruses or bacteria.

  • It reduces others from getting exposed to the wearer’s saliva and respiratory droplets.

  • It also reminds the wearer not to touch his or her face and nose.

  • It can be used by COVID-19 positive patients.


  • It cannot filter very small particles in the air, which can also contain bacteria or viruses.

  • It does not provide complete protection against germs.

  • It is not as effective as a respirator.

N95 Respirators:


N95 respirator, otherwise called N95 mask, is a type of mask that filters 95 % of airborne particles, including bacteria and viruses. They are made from a fine mesh of fibers called non-woven polypropylene fabric. This is a tight-fitting face mask. It is circular or oval shaped and should form a tight seal around the nose and mouth. Elastic bands are used to hold this mask in place.


  • It is more effective than both surgical and homemade masks. But, they should be strictly used only by healthcare professionals and medical staff while treating COVID-19 patients.

  • They filter 95 % of airborne particles.


  • N95 respirators cannot be used by all. They have to be fit-tested before they can be used to check if a proper seal is formed or not.

  • Even after being fit-tested, it has to be checked each time the user puts them on.

  • It does not properly fit children and individuals with facial hair.

  • If the mask does not fit properly, it will not be very effective.

Do Masks Really Protect Against the New Coronavirus?

The new coronavirus spreads through respiratory droplets produced when a person coughs or sneezes. Anyone standing too close to an infected person when he coughs or sneezes can breathe in the virus through these droplets. These droplets can also contaminate objects or surfaces. Anyone who touches such surfaces or objects and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth can also get infected.

  1. Homemade masks provide a small degree of protection and may stop the spread of the new coronavirus from an asymptomatic person.

  2. Surgical masks do not protect against COVID-19, as it does not effectively filter out smaller respiratory droplets, and unfiltered air can also leak inside from the side of the mask. It can be worn by a COVID-positive patient to prevent the spread to others.

  3. N95 respirators do protect against smaller respiratory droplets that might contain the new coronavirus. But, CDC does not recommend the general public from wearing it. This is because it has to be custom-fitted before it can be effective, it cannot be comfortable to wear for prolonged periods, and as the supply of N95 respirators is limited, it is crucial for healthcare professionals to have ready access to them.

How Should Surgical and Homemade Masks Be Used?

  1. Firstly, clean your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

  2. Check if your mask does not have perforations.

  3. If you are using a surgical mask, adapt the top metal strip to the bridge of your nose by keeping the white-colored side facing you.

  4. If it is a homemade mask, hold the mask near your nose.

  5. Then loop the elastic bands around your ears or tie the strands behind your head.

  6. After the mask is secured, pull the bottom end to properly cover your mouth and chin.

  7. If you want to adjust your mask while wearing, make sure you wash your hands first.

  8. Do not touch the front of the mask while taking it off. Untie or unloop the bands and throw the surgical mask in a closed bin and wash your hands.

  9. Homemade masks should be washed in lukewarm water and dried under the sun.

Can Improper Usage of Masks Cause More Damage?

Yes, it can. The argument being:

  1. Improper disposal and use of masks can result in the spread of infection more rapidly.

  2. It might increase the person’s instinct to touch his face to adjust the mask.

  3. It may develop a false sense of security, making people oversee hand washing and social distancing.

  4. Disposable masks are washed, dried and then resold in some places.

What Is Double Masking?

When you wear a mask on top of another mask, it is called double masking. Health experts recommend wearing double masks as a strategy to counter the elevated transmission of COVID-19.

What are the Benefits of Double Masking?

One benefit is that you get a better fit. When you wear an improperly fitting mask, there are chances of infectious droplets escaping through the sides of the mask. This is prevented in the case of double masking.

The other benefit is that double masking helps to increase its filtration power. The material in the masks filters the respiratory droplets containing the virus before you get to inhale them. The layers of the mask increase the filtration power. Health experts recommend wearing masks with at least two or three layers. Hence, when you wear an additional mask, it offers better filtration.

Which Combination of Masks Offers Better Protection?

Some combination of masks can make it hard for you to breathe. Such a combination of masks should be avoided.

  • Avoid wearing two surgical masks.
  • Avoid wearing any other type of mask with N95. N95 masks do not require an additional mask along with it.

Health experts recommend wearing a surgical mask with a cloth mask over it.

Ensure that you are able to breathe wearing double masks. You can try it at home, and if you are fine with double masking, you can go for it. It offers better protection.


So the bottom line is, you can wear a double mask provided you follow the guidelines, you wear it properly, clean it regularly, wash your hands, do not touch your face, and follow social distancing. Wearing a mask does not make you completely safe from COVID-19, but it does reduce the risk to some extent. Unless every one of us is vaccinated, it is necessary for each one of us to wear a mask. So do wear masks and get vaccinated to fight this deadly virus.

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Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar
Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Pulmonology (Asthma Doctors)


covid-19face masks
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