What are N95 Masks and are They Definitely Needed

by Summer Zhou

The outbreak of this new strain of coronavirus has brought to light the importance of protecting ourselves against illness. Wearing masks is by far one of the most effective precautions. However, not everyone understands the difference between the efficacy of cotton face masks, disposable masks (such as medical-surgical masks), and N95 respirators in protecting ourselves against airborne viruses.

Source: https://www.skysper.com/products/2019-latest-dust-mask-n95-tech-with-replaceable-filters

To protect yourself against this strain of coronavirus, the optimal choice is the N95 respirator, which can effectively prevent respiratory tract infection. An N95 respirator is designed to fit very closely to your face, one of nine kinds of particle respirators certified by NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health). The “N” in N95 represents the type of harmful particle that the respirator filters out. The “95” represents that under the detection conditions specified in the NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health) standard, the filtration efficiency reaches 95%. The most significant characteristic of the N95 respirator is that it can prevent lung infection caused by airborne droplets of bodily fluids, which can be 1 to 5 microns in diameter.

Source: https://www.amazon.com/TM-Particulate-Respirator-8210V/dp/B075782N7K?th=1

In fact, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requires medical workers exposed to TB bacteria to wear masks above N95 standard. Common misunderstandings of masks come from their titles. It is important to know that N95 is not a brand, but the name for this type of breathing apparatus that has the functions described above. However, because the prices of N95 respirators are skyrocketing due to high demand (especially in China), they are temporarily sold out. So, we have to ask ourselves: do we have to wear N95 respirators?


Although N95 respirators are one of the more effective options, wearing general surgical masks is also sufficient, as these viruses generally don’t exist alone but often exist in droplets, which are effectively blocked by general surgical masks. If you go to public places exposed to the open air and do not have direct contact with patients, you can choose to wear medical surgical masks; however, for doctors who will be in direct contact with patients diagnosed with a respiratory infection, wearing N95 respirators is necessary.

1:  “Masks and N95 Respirators,” US Food & Drug administrations, accessed February 19, 2020, https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/personal-protective-equipment-infection-control/masks-and-n95-respirators#s3

2: “一定要买N95口罩才行?如何戴口罩?买不到口罩如何预防感染?一文告诉你” [Do you have to buy N95 mask? How to wear a mask? How to prevent infection if you can’t buy a mask?], Zhihu, last modified January 21, 2020, accessed February 19, 2020, https://zhuanlan.zhihu.com/p/103680936?utm_source=wechat_session&utm_medium=social&utm_oi=1010561446861799424. 

3: “一定要买N95口罩才行?如何戴口罩?买不到口罩如何预防感染?一文告诉你” [Do you have to buy N95 mask? How to wear a mask? How to prevent infection if you can’t buy a mask?], Zhihu, last modified January 21, 2020, accessed February 19, 2020, https://zhuanlan.zhihu.com/p/103680936?utm_source=wechat_session&utm_medium=social&utm_oi=1010561446861799424.

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