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How to Determine the Best Face Mask for Covid-19

Virus hazards require a mitigation strategy to reduce and lower the risk. Masks provide a means to reduce spreading the virus.

Face Mask

Face Mask

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Personal protection equipment (PPE) has become a buzzword used today. We hear it on the news, read it in the paper for those old school folks, and, yes, move our finger across our electronic device to keep up to date with the latest events. Pandemic, it’s everywhere, what to do and where to go seems to have become a reality.

This article provides information about various masks and the percentage of harmful particles blocked by the filter material. The goal remains to provide knowledge of different respirators that will reduce the virus exposure.

Protection is a critical concern for all of us breathing in today’s environment Faced with a hazard that is invisible and contagious, causing sickness throughout the nation. With a virus such as this, our nation needs a strategy to fight against this hazard. A mask will slow the spread of the infection and likely prevent an additional spike in illness cases.

Covid-19 Hazard

Covid-19 Hazard

Hazard Identification

Understanding the hazard is the first step to determine the best respirator to use. A hazard is something that has the potential to cause injury (Goetsch, 2019). Here, just about anything is a hazard to include the virus. Next, the level of risk requires one to determine the likelihood and severity of the hazard. For example, the probability of infection from the flu aligns with the likelihood. Severity represents the consequence or impact the hazard will cause.

The illness may last for a few days or develop into pneumonia. Pneumonia suggests how bad of an outcome presents itself. To determine the outcome and the level of risk requires the alignment of two matrix variables. Aligning the likelihood and severity determines the level of risk.

Routes of Exposure

Exposure routes include inhalation, ingestion, and dermal. Inhalation is the most prevalent form of exposure.

— Fuller, 2015

Routes of Exposure

For a hazard to enter the body, there are three routes of exposure. The routes of exposure include inhalation, ingestion, and dermal or absorption through the skin. According to Fuller (2015), out of the three routes of exposure, the most prevalent means for a virus to enter the body is through inhalation. An aerosol entered a person’s lungs through inhalation and passed through the body. The metabolism process transforms the virus. Sometimes, it creates a metabolite, and the change becomes more reactive and toxic (Fuller, 2015).

Dermal occurs while absorbing the hazard through the skin. Ingestion pertains to direct exposure from inhaled particles or ingestion through the mucus and swallowed. As noted, inhalation is the most prevalent route of exposure. Exposure type presents a key element to selecting the correct mask that revolves around the virus and determines the correct mask filter percentage.

Face Mask

Face Mask

Types of Masks

Nine types of disposable filtering face masks purify the air through a filtering system. The respirator covers the nose and mouth. The person wearing the mask breathes, and the filter absorbs the air particles before inhaling into the body. Table 1 lists the mask designation determined by the efficiency and percentage of particles the mask will block.

Table 1, Respirator Efficiency and Percentage Chart

Table 1, Mask Efficiency and Percentage

Minimum EfficiencyN (not oil resistant)R (oil resistant)P (oil proof)









100% (99.97%)




Mask Variables

Manufacturers label respirators with a number and letter identifier to list the filter efficiency and resistance to particles (CPWR, n.d.). For example, the N95 respirator, many of us have heard of, is a disposable mask designed as an air-purifying respirator. The respirator protects by filtering particles out as the person breathes. Respirators only protect against particles and not gases or vapors. Therefore, the mask can block the visor elements, also known as biological agents.

Masks that can filter out at least 95% of the airborne particles and the mask receives a 95 stamp rating. Next, a filter labeled 99 suggests that 99% of air particles are filtered, and a 100% rating removes 99.97% of the particles. A filter designated less than 95% may not stop a person from inhaling the infectious particles. Therefore, an N95 mask (95% particle removal) presents the best option to protect against the virus.

Along with the mask percentage rating, 95%, 99%, 100%, manufacturers stamp respirators with an N, R, or P. Respirators that are not resistant to oil define an N rating (Not resistant). Next, a mask labeled with an R is somewhat resistant to oil (somewhat Resistant). We define respirators that are oil-resistant as P for oil Proof (oil Proof). Figure 2 lists the particle efficiency rated in percentage and filter performance label with an N, R, or P. N95 and percentages above 95% filter particles that reach the size of 0.3 um. Droplets from coughing, talking, and sneezing represent 5-um. Therefore, the N95 mask is sufficient to block droplets and particles released from others.

Cloth Masks

Cloth masks made from household fabric present another means of protection, although the homemade device trap droplets exhale when they talk and cough. The cloth mask protects others by reducing the distance of respiratory droplets when the wearer exhales. Multiple layers of tightly-woven fabric provide a means to stop more droplets from escaping the mask (Mayo, n.d.).

Face masks provide a method to reduce the spread of the virus. According to Berman (2020), decreasing the transfer of airborne droplets from sneezing and coughs requires the use of a mask. Without a face mask, droplets from a person sneezing projected particles up to twelve feet. Next, commercially produced masks reduce the droplet distance to eight inches. Homemade masks developed from a bandana and shirt fabric reduced the projection of droplets to over three feet.

Finally, folded cotton reduced the projection to over one-foot distance from the sneeze or cough source. Also, respiratory droplets can suspend into the air for over three minutes before falling. Mask use exists to mitigate the virus hazard due to the social distance of six feet, and airborne particles from a sneeze or cough remain airborne for up to three minutes. Table 2 provides a list of mask material and droplet distance following a sneeze or cough. The use of a mask and social distancing provides a method to mitigate against the virus hazard.

Table 2, Droplet Distance Following a Sneeze or Cough

Note, Mask Type and Droplet Distance from Cough or Sneeze.

Mask MaterialDroplet Distance from Cough or Sneeze

No Mask

12 Feet

Commercial Developed Mask

8 Inches


3 Feet, 7 Inches

Folded Cotton Handerchief

1 Feet, 3 Inches

Homemade Stitched Layers of Cotton

2.5 Inches



Final Note

Masks prevent harm from entering the body through inhalation. Painters, welders, doctors, and chemical specialists use masks designed to prevent inhaling hazardous air particles. The virus suggests that the best mask to use includes the designation of N95. Using an N95 designated mask will block 95% of the harmful virus particles. Therefore, selecting the correct mask to block the virus particles requires noting the filter percentage and efficiency to reduce the virus hazard. Those who use homemade masks require social distancing to limit the distance of droplets released due to a sneeze or cough. Therefore, homemade stitched layers with cotton and N95 masks present our best option today to limit exposure to the virus.


Berman, R. (2020). Which homemade masks are most effective? Medical News Today.

CPWR. (n.d.). Chapter 5: Personal protective equipment (PPE).

Fuller, T. P. (2015). Essentials of industrial hygiene. Itasca, IL: National Safety Council.

Goetsch, D. L. (2019). Occupational safety and health for technologists, engineers, and managers (9th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson.

Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). How well do face masks protect against coronavirus?

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