Covid-19: Here's why N95 masks with respirators are not recommended

An N95 respirator mask is a respiratory protective device with high filtration efficiency to airborne particles
The government of India has cautioned against the use of N95 masks with valved respirators, claiming that there are higher chances of coronavirus spreading from asymptomatic people to uninfected persons through them.

The Director-General of Health Services (DGHS) has also alluded to the inappropriate use of N95 masks with valved respirators by the public.

"It is to bring to your knowledge that the use of valved respirator N95 masks is detrimental to the measures adopted for preventing the spread of coronavirus as they don't prevent the virus from escaping out of the mask," DGHS Rajiv Garg said.

Can face masks prevent coronavirus?

Can face masks help slow the spread of the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes Covid-19? Yes, face masks combined with other preventive measures, such as frequent hand-washing and social distancing, help slow the spread of the virus.

What is an N95 respirator mask?

An N95 respirator mask is a respiratory protective device with high filtration efficiency to airborne particles. To provide the requisite air seal to the wearer, such masks are designed to achieve a very close facial fit. N95 masks also come without respiratory valves and the government advisory does not mention those as problematic. The 95 in N95 stands for 95 per cent. A N95 mask is supposed to filter out 95 per cent of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5).

How do valved masks lead to the spread of coronavirus?

N95 masks come with or without respirators. Evidence shows that even though the mask with valve protects a person from contracting the infection, it can put others at risk. Here's how:

Any N95 mask, which has a raised plastic gasket stitched in it fibre is actually used to filter the air when you breathe in, however when you breathe out, the air does not get filtered again and it goes out as is. Hence, an asymptomatic carrier of coronavirus can infect others, by releasing the unfiltered exhaled air in the immediate surroundings. This happens because these valves do not filter the air you have exhaled and the expelled air is pushed out quickly from the valve, which is actually a one-way valve.

How do the different types of masks work?

Surgical mask

Also called a medical mask, a surgical mask is a loose-fitting disposable mask that protects the nose and mouth from contact with droplets, splashes and sprays that may contain germs. Surgical masks may protect others by reducing exposure to the saliva and respiratory secretions of the mask wearer.

N95 masks

N95 mask offers more protection than a surgical mask does because it can filter out both large and small particles when the wearer inhales. As the name indicates, the mask is designed to block 95% of very small particles. Some N95 masks have valves that make them easier to breathe through. However, with this type of mask, unfiltered air is released when the wearer exhales. Hence, it is not effective against coronavirus.

Cloth masks

A cloth mask is intended to trap droplets that are released when the wearer talks, coughs or sneezes.

Cloth face coverings are most likely to reduce the spread of the coronavirus when they are widely used by people in public settings. Cloth face coverings and masks are easy to find or make, and can be washed and reused.

N99 masks

N99 masks are similar to N95 masks but are more effective in blocking tiny particulate matter. N99 masks are able to block 99 per cent of all fine particulate matter (PM 2.5). They only come with respiratory valves.

Both N95 and N99 masks are also used to safeguard one from exposure to highly polluted air.
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