What Is The Best Type Of Mask To Protect You From COVID-19?

Early on in the pandemic, mask-wearing was recommended in an effort to protect people from asymptomatic COVID-19 transmission, which was particularly important since at least half of COVID-19 transmission is from people who do not yet have symptoms. In effect, mask-wearing was not primarily to protect the wearer, but the people around them (per NPR).

At least 10 studies from around the globe confirm that widespread mask-wearing reduces the spread of COVID-19, and leads to fewer hospitalizations and deaths. Even within households, COVID-19 is much less likely to spread from person to person if masks are worn before the onset of symptoms (per CDC).

While mask-wearing was originally implemented to protect others, we soon learned that mask-wearing actually does protect the wearer, but that some masks may be more effective than others. In particular, the CDC recommends non-valved multi-layer cloth masks. There is a type of mask that may be even more effective than this, though.

N95 and KN95 masks are most effective

The delta variant may be nearly as contagious as chickenpox, according to the CDC. With this in mind, you may be wondering which type of mask would offer the best protection.

A study conducted by the University of Waterloo found that N95 and KN95 masks filter more than five times the number of aerosols as cloth and surgical masks. If you choose to upgrade, be wary of counterfeits. The CDC has a guide to help you determine whether or not an N95 mask is authentic.

If you can't get your hands on a N95 and KN95, wearing a cloth or surgical mask is better than going maskless, but keep in mind that multi-layer cloth masks are much more effective than single-layer masks, according to the CDC. A study from late 2020 (via Aerosol Science and Technology) found that while N95 masks block 99% of aerosols from coughing, 3-ply cotton cloth face masks block 51%.