Are Masks or Respirators Really Effective or Necessary?

A question many are asking as news about coronavirus continuous to circulate.

It is important to understand the differences between these two types of protective equipment. Since there is limited historical information on the effectiveness of surgical masks and respirators for the control of influenza during any previous pandemics, the effectiveness of surgical masks and respirators has been inferred on the basis of the mode of influenza transmission, particle size, and professional judgment.

The purpose of face masks is to protect the user from potential hazards or prevent an infectious person from contaminating someone else. However, during inhalation, a face mask does not fit tight enough to prevent inhalation of small airborne contaminants that are not visible to the human eye. The contaminated air can pass through gaps between the face and the surgical mask regardless of how tight fitting it is. It is, however, acting as a barrier to keep contaminated hands from nose and mouth also protects workers, such as healthcare professionals, from splashes or sprays of blood or bodily fluids.

A respirator is a device that protects you from inhaling dangerous substances, such as hazardous fumes, chemicals, and gases including dust and airborne microorganisms. Depending on the type of respirator, testing and adjusting are required to provide a tight seal. Training is important in regard to the use of respirators because they are meant for industrial settings. In addition, respirators must be put and taken off in an area outside the contaminated area to avoid hazardous gases from entering the respirator.

Respiratory protection is effective only if:
the correct respirator is used,
it’s available when you need it,
you know when and how to put it on and take it off, and
you have stored it and kept it in working order in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions

Visit osha.gov and cdc.gov for a further in-depth understanding of the differences between masks and respirators.

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