New research shows which masks are most effective and if they affect blood oxygen levels in wearers

By Regence
November 03, 2020

The most effective masks are the ones that are being worn. Nearly as effective as those worn by health care professionals are multi-layer fabric masks. Some have been concerned that these may impact breathing, especially in the elderly. New research shows no change in oxygenation status for elderly adults while wearing a three-layer cloth mask.

Updated Nov. 3, 2020

You’ve heard it from public health officials, government leaders and probably even your own doctor: one of the best ways to stop the spread of COVID-19 is to wear a face mask. Since mid-July the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended this for all Americans over age 2.

COVID-19 is spread primarily through respiratory droplets generated when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. The CDC estimates about 40 percent of people infected with COVID-19 have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all—but they can still transmit the virus to others.

Masks of all types can be found everywhere: surgical masks, homemade masks, designer masks, athletic-inspired masks. It can be hard to know what to choose.

With so many to choose from, which mask is best?

Research by ScienceAdvances shows some masks are much more effective in filtering out these respiratory droplets.

At the top of the list are those that should be reserved for medical professionals—N95 and surgical masks. Nearly as effective were masks available to all of us: double-layer polypropylene masks (many disposable, non-medical masks are made from this material) and triple-layer fabric cotton-poly-cotton masks that may be found online, in a boutique or even made at home.

Earlier research questioned the effectiveness of neck gaiters and bandanas. Subsequent research reported by MIT Medical shows any face covering is better than none, and two or three layers are more effective than one at blocking droplets. (Update—gaiters are OK! More layers provide better protection for you and those around you.)

The CDC also recommends washing your mask by hand or with your regular laundry at least daily.

What types of masks to avoid

Any mask with an exhalation valve. These are designed to restrict air coming in, but not going out. These provide no protection for those around you.

Research shows wearing a mask may also protect you

It turns out wearing a mask may not just be an act of goodwill toward others through not spreading the virus. Recent research published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine suggests wearing a mask may protect you from a severe case of COVID-19 or from contracting the virus at all. Furthermore, research recently published by the Journal of the American Medical Association shows no change in blood oxygen levels in elderly people while wearing a three-layer mask.

Wear a mask and remember the basics

You can also protect against COVID-19 and other viruses by doing what you’ve heard for months: wash your hands regularly and avoid close contact with those outside your household. If you are unable to wash your hands, use hand sanitizer (about a quarter’s worth) and rub it into your hands for 20 to 30 seconds. Read this Huffington Post article for more tips on appropriate hand sanitizer use.

More information about how to care for yourself and your family during this unprecedented time is available at