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The ultimate mask guide

The masks discussed in this article are listed in order from most effective to least effective: choose your weapon of choice wisely. 

Sasha Skarboviychuk 

N95 

Ah, the king of all masks. How did you get your hands on one? You surely have connections to the mask mafia. If you are one of those people who is connected, you will know all the horrors and benefits of wearing one. Let’s start by talking about everyone’s large concern: aesthetics. I am not going to lie and say that the N95s are the most beautiful thing you can wear on your face: They are pretty ugly. Oh yeah, and it is not as easy to breathe in it, in case you are one of those people who is concerned about breathability. And the fact that it is so thick makes you realize that you should brush your teeth more often. And the little fibers in the mask can get really irritating on your skin. Good thing that the concern right now is how pretty and comfortable your mask is and not preventing a global pandemic from going on for even longer. 

KN95 

The KN95’s are like the vice president who is always there, but no one is sure why or what they do. The second in command mask does not differ much from the king in terms of aesthetics, only by its country of origin (China as opposed to the United States). I have to say that the shape of the mask makes it look like you have a beak and you are trying so hard to cover with the mask (and are failing). I am not going to lie to you by saying that I’ve ever worn one so I cannot answer the ultimate question: Can I breathe in it? Though I do have to say that if people couldn’t breathe in it, there would be quite a number of lawsuits (this is America afterall) against the producers of these masks.  

Surgical Mask 

This mask is definitely more on the breathable side of the masks considered and, at the beginning of this whole COVID-19 thing, was the most common. In the first few months everyone was wearing a surgical mask. Don’t get me wrong, I am very happy that people are complying with the mask advisory, but I am not very happy with the fact that everyone looks like a dentist. It’s like there are dentists all around. And they’re following me, reminding me that I definitely missed my last few appointments. Truly scary happenings, guys. 

Cloth Mask 

I have to admit that these are oftentimes really cool. Amidst this pandemic, companies have been able to take advantage of great demand for a new product: masks. Everyone is making them, from Disney to Macy’s, it’s like everyone wants to tap into the mask market. I kind of want to get one as a memory of the crazy times we are currently living in. In terms of breathability they are close to surgical masks: They don’t make you puke from your own breath but can still protect others from you. Who can complain about these masks? They are easy to breath in, can be personalized and, most importantly, they look cool! Good thing we have our priorities straight. 

Tissue over face 

You know I really wish I could tell you that this type of mask was something I came up with to be funny. But it’s not. For the safety of the creator, I will keep their identity a secret, but I promise you this is something someone I know wore in lieu of a real mask. In terms of aesthetics, I only have one thing to say: Halloween is in October. And tissue face is a lame costume. But there is good news too: It is incredibly easy to breathe in this “mask.” It’s almost like you are not wearing one at all!

No Mask

Ah the boldest of all choices. While most of us have been enjoying the opportunity of shamelessly not smiling at people and not worried about our resting bitch faces, some people choose to grace us with their entire face. What can I say, those people have been embracing the opportunity to breathe in droplets that come out of other people: Who can resist? Oh, and in terms of breathability, it is perfect: You have easy access to all the crap that is currently polluting the air. But hey, at least they don’t look like a dentist; they just look inconsiderate! 


John Fornagiel

N95

N95 masks are a great mask for filtering out particles in the air as the wearer breathes. Although these masks boast an extremely high filtering power, they are not well-suited for the general public and should mainly be reserved for first responders, medical professionals and other high-risk workers. Additionally, due to the rarity of these masks, it may be tempting for individuals to use an N95 several times. However, these are intended for single-use only. The reasoning for this is that an N95 is designed to trap very small particles (such as dust and bacteria) onto its fibers. These can accumulate over time and inhibit the effectiveness of a mask. Finally, if you are a frequent user of an N95, make sure to shave off all facial hair to ensure full effectiveness of the mask. Facial hair can cause a poor fit and allow particles to seep in through the sides of the mask. Also, fun fact: The number in N95 is the percentage of medium-sized particles that the mask filters. There are also masks such as N99 that also exist that possess an even higher filtering power!

KN95

KN95 masks are extremely similar to N95 masks. The KN95’s are a version of a filtering facepiece respirator (FFR) that was approved in China, with the N95 counterpart being approved in the U.S. While there are some minute differences between the N95 and KN95, they virtually hold the same role for the general public. Fortunately, at the time of writing this, there are some KN95 masks available for purchase that can provide you with better protection than a typical cloth or surgical mask. Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified KN95’s (among other FFR’s) as a suitable alternative to a mask. Conveniently, everything that was said about the N95 also applies to the KN95!

Surgical Mask

Surgical masks cover the nose and mouth and are very loose-fitting. Their main purpose is to protect the nose and mouth from any large splashes and sprays that can come close to the mouth. Although they excel at blocking large particles such as water droplets, they do not filter out medium-sized or smaller particles as well as the N95 mask does. Fortunately, although viruses are often too small to be blocked by a surgical mask, it is important to remember that these viruses are not often airborne. They are often carried by larger water droplets that can be blocked by the surgical mask.

Cloth Mask

Although these masks are not as effective as the N95 masks or even the surgical masks, they are much better than not wearing a mask at all and are reusable. The CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering when social distance measures are difficult to uphold. The CDC also recommends washing a cloth mask after each use. Washing a cloth mask is as simple as throwing it in the laundry with the rest of your clothes! To facilitate usage of a cloth mask, you can cycle through two or more masks to ensure that you always have a clean one on hand.

Face Masks with Valves

These masks are very misleading and often provide a false sense of security. The valves on the mask are designed to make it easier for the user to breathe out, but in doing so, facilitate the spread of germs from the user to those around them. Although they provide good protection to the user, they often unknowingly put those around them in danger and at risk if the wearer is indeed contagious. In fact, these masks are so ineffective that Brandeis does not allow them on campus.

(Note: This article is a good-faith attempt to be helpful to the Brandeis community and is by no means to be taken as universal. This article does not replace the advice of a medical professional. This article is not written on behalf of the Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps (BEMCo) and is not affiliated with BEMCo in any manner.)

The masks discussed in this article are listed in order from most effective to least effective: choose your weapon of choice wisely. 

Sasha Skarboviychuk 

N95 

Ah, the king of all masks. How did you get your hands on one? You surely have connections to the mask mafia. If you are one of those people who is connected, you will know all the horrors and benefits of wearing one. Let’s start by talking about everyone’s large concern: aesthetics. I am not going to lie and say that the N95s are the most beautiful thing you can wear on your face: They are pretty ugly. Oh yeah, and it is not as easy to breathe in it, in case you are one of those people who is concerned about breathability. And the fact that it is so thick makes you realize that you should brush your teeth more often. And the little fibers in the mask can get really irritating on your skin. Good thing that the concern right now is how pretty and comfortable your mask is and not preventing a global pandemic from going on for even longer. 

KN95 

The KN95’s are like the vice president who is always there, but no one is sure why or what they do. The second in command mask does not differ much from the king in terms of aesthetics, only by its country of origin (China as opposed to the United States). I have to say that the shape of the mask makes it look like you have a beak and you are trying so hard to cover with the mask (and are failing). I am not going to lie to you by saying that I’ve ever worn one so I cannot answer the ultimate question: Can I breathe in it? Though I do have to say that if people couldn’t breathe in it, there would be quite a number of lawsuits (this is America afterall) against the producers of these masks.  

Surgical Mask 

This mask is definitely more on the breathable side of the masks considered and, at the beginning of this whole COVID-19 thing, was the most common. In the first few months everyone was wearing a surgical mask. Don’t get me wrong, I am very happy that people are complying with the mask advisory, but I am not very happy with the fact that everyone looks like a dentist. It’s like there are dentists all around. And they’re following me, reminding me that I definitely missed my last few appointments. Truly scary happenings, guys. 

Cloth Mask 

I have to admit that these are oftentimes really cool. Amidst this pandemic, companies have been able to take advantage of great demand for a new product: masks. Everyone is making them, from Disney to Macy’s, it’s like everyone wants to tap into the mask market. I kind of want to get one as a memory of the crazy times we are currently living in. In terms of breathability they are close to surgical masks: They don’t make you puke from your own breath but can still protect others from you. Who can complain about these masks? They are easy to breath in, can be personalized and, most importantly, they look cool! Good thing we have our priorities straight. 

Tissue over face 

You know I really wish I could tell you that this type of mask was something I came up with to be funny. But it’s not. For the safety of the creator, I will keep their identity a secret, but I promise you this is something someone I know wore in lieu of a real mask. In terms of aesthetics, I only have one thing to say: Halloween is in October. And tissue face is a lame costume. But there is good news too: It is incredibly easy to breathe in this “mask.” It’s almost like you are not wearing one at all!

No Mask

Ah the boldest of all choices. While most of us have been enjoying the opportunity of shamelessly not smiling at people and not worried about our resting bitch faces, some people choose to grace us with their entire face. What can I say, those people have been embracing the opportunity to breathe in droplets that come out of other people: Who can resist? Oh, and in terms of breathability, it is perfect: You have easy access to all the crap that is currently polluting the air. But hey, at least they don’t look like a dentist; they just look inconsiderate! 


John Fornagiel

N95

N95 masks are a great mask for filtering out particles in the air as the wearer breathes. Although these masks boast an extremely high filtering power, they are not well-suited for the general public and should mainly be reserved for first responders, medical professionals and other high-risk workers. Additionally, due to the rarity of these masks, it may be tempting for individuals to use an N95 several times. However, these are intended for single-use only. The reasoning for this is that an N95 is designed to trap very small particles (such as dust and bacteria) onto its fibers. These can accumulate over time and inhibit the effectiveness of a mask. Finally, if you are a frequent user of an N95, make sure to shave off all facial hair to ensure full effectiveness of the mask. Facial hair can cause a poor fit and allow particles to seep in through the sides of the mask. Also, fun fact: The number in N95 is the percentage of medium-sized particles that the mask filters. There are also masks such as N99 that also exist that possess an even higher filtering power!

KN95

KN95 masks are extremely similar to N95 masks. The KN95’s are a version of a filtering facepiece respirator (FFR) that was approved in China, with the N95 counterpart being approved in the U.S. While there are some minute differences between the N95 and KN95, they virtually hold the same role for the general public. Fortunately, at the time of writing this, there are some KN95 masks available for purchase that can provide you with better protection than a typical cloth or surgical mask. Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified KN95’s (among other FFR’s) as a suitable alternative to a mask. Conveniently, everything that was said about the N95 also applies to the KN95!

Surgical Mask

Surgical masks cover the nose and mouth and are very loose-fitting. Their main purpose is to protect the nose and mouth from any large splashes and sprays that can come close to the mouth. Although they excel at blocking large particles such as water droplets, they do not filter out medium-sized or smaller particles as well as the N95 mask does. Fortunately, although viruses are often too small to be blocked by a surgical mask, it is important to remember that these viruses are not often airborne. They are often carried by larger water droplets that can be blocked by the surgical mask.

Cloth Mask

Although these masks are not as effective as the N95 masks or even the surgical masks, they are much better than not wearing a mask at all and are reusable. The CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering when social distance measures are difficult to uphold. The CDC also recommends washing a cloth mask after each use. Washing a cloth mask is as simple as throwing it in the laundry with the rest of your clothes! To facilitate usage of a cloth mask, you can cycle through two or more masks to ensure that you always have a clean one on hand.

Face Masks with Valves

These masks are very misleading and often provide a false sense of security. The valves on the mask are designed to make it easier for the user to breathe out, but in doing so, facilitate the spread of germs from the user to those around them. Although they provide good protection to the user, they often unknowingly put those around them in danger and at risk if the wearer is indeed contagious. In fact, these masks are so ineffective that Brandeis does not allow them on campus.

(Note: This article is a good-faith attempt to be helpful to the Brandeis community and is by no means to be taken as universal. This article does not replace the advice of a medical professional. This article is not written on behalf of the Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps (BEMCo) and is not affiliated with BEMCo in any manner.)

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