Face-mask or respirator: Which will help prevent COVID-19?


As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the questions have been raised about the differences between face masks or respirators. 

  • What is a respirator? 
    • A respirator is a protective device worn on the face or head and covers at least the nose and mouth.  
    • It reduces the wearer’s risk of inhaling hazardous airborne particles, including infectious agents, gases or vapors.  
    • Respirators are certified by the CDC/NIOSH. 

With the news of COVID-19, you may have seen pictures of the N95 respirator. This respirator only covers the mouth and nose and is the one used most by health care professionals as they protect themselves while caring for infected patients.

(AP Photo/ Pat Roque/file)
  • What is a face-mask?  
    • A face-mask is used to prevent contamination of the surrounding area when a person coughs or sneezes.  
    • A face-mask is also worn on the face covering the nose and mouth 
(AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

With this information, the differences are how air particles are filtered in through and how it fits on the face.  

However, not everyone can wear a respirator due to medical conditions that can become worse when breathing through a respirator.  

In addition, achieving an adequate seal to the face is essential when using face protection. This limits the amount of unfiltered air being breathed in. U.S. regulations require an annual fit test and conduct a user seal check each time a respirator is used.  

Should you wear a face mask?

The CDC says that face masks are only useful if you are already sick. Other than that, they are not useful.

Should you wear a respirator?

The CDC does not recommend the use of a respirator unless you are a healthcare professional or you are in a workplace to comes in contact with dangerous fluids.   

The spread of respiratory viruses from person to person most often within 6 feet. It is better to practice social distancing than buy a respirator. Healthcare professionals need them as they care for COVID-19 patients.   

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