Living with Chronic Pain

Types of Protective Face Coverings


As of April 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that individuals wear face coverings in public settings to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Different types of face masks are available, and each type has a different purpose.

Protective face coverings for healthcare workers

Because of supply and demand during the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC currently recommends that certain masks are reserved for healthcare workers because they are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 than the general public. Healthcare workers should be using N95 masks or surgical masks.

N95 respirators block out 95% of very small particles, including those that may cause the coronavirus. These disposable masks fit tightly around the face and are only effective if properly sealed. Healthcare workers are trained in the proper use of N95 masks.

Surgical masks are more loose-fitting than N95 masks. They protect the wearer from large particles, such as saliva and respiratory secretions from another person’s cough or sneeze. They do not block very small particles as N95 masks do. Surgical masks are meant to be disposable.

Protective face coverings for the general public

The CDC currently recommends that non-healthcare workers wear cloth face masks. These can be made from a variety of common household items, such as bandanas, T-shirts, and other fabrics. The CDC website includes instructions for sewn and non-sewn face coverings.

Tips for making or purchasing a cloth mask
  • Masks should include at least two layers of fabric, while still allowing the wearer to breathe.
  • The mask should fit well around the nose, mouth and chin.
  • Masks should tie at the back of the head or have loops that go around the ears.
Tips for wearing a cloth face mask
  • Wash hands with soap and water before touching the mask.
  • Make sure the mask does not have any holes.
  • Put the mask over the mouth and nose, making sure it is as snug as possible.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it.
  • Remove the mask using the tie or ear loops, not the fabric or front of the mask.
  • Wash hands with soap and water immediately after removing the mask.
Cleaning cloth masks

Cloth face masks should be washed after each use. They can be washed alone or with other clothing in a washing machine with regular laundry detergent. If washing by hand, the mask should be soaked for five minutes in a solution consisting of four teaspoons of bleach per quart of room temperature water, then rinsed thoroughly with cool water. Face masks can be dried by laying the mask flat to air dry or placing the mask in a dryer and using the highest heat setting.

Important note

Face masks should not be worn by children under the age of two, anyone who has trouble breathing, or anyone who cannot remove a mask without assistance. Be sure to maintain social distancing even while wearing a mask.

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