COLUMBUS, Ohio — In the last week, we have been keeping track of your e-mails coming into our newsroom, asking for clarity on what type of mask offers the best protection.
Arguably, it’s the most amount of mask-related question we’ve seen in a while. We took your questions to Dr. Mahdee Sobhanie, Assistant Professor with the Division of Infectious Diseases at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Q: Can you sterilize masks in portable sterilization machines?
Dr. Sobhanie: “What I would say is the short answer is no. If you’re going to use a one-time use disposable mask, whether that’s a surgical mask that you can purchase or a KN95 or a KF94, those are masks that are made to be used on a one-time basis. If they do get soiled or get wet, then it kind of loses their properties. The other thing too is that really what makes a mask a mask is that there is a good fit to the mask. You want to make sure that the ear loops are snug very well. You want to make sure that the mask covers the nose and underneath the chin as well. But if your mask is soiled, your mask isn’t really meant to be used more than once especially those disposable masks.”
Q: Can you use Lysol to sanitize your mask?
Dr. Sobhanie: “The answer is no. And really those are materials, such as Lysol and bleach, that are for materials that are used on hard surfaces. So they definitely do not work on masks. The same way that you would probably not Lysol your clothes.”
Q: If you wear a cloth mask with a filter added to it is it a good as the disposable mask?
Dr. Sobhanie: "No. So actually those filters, we do not recommend those filters. When you want to look at what makes a mask, you have surgical masks and you have these N95 masks.
"What do N95 masks mean? They mean that they filter out 95% of the air particles that come in. Now N95 masks have very nice fits, are fitted to your face, and there’s a tight seal on there. That’s why you can see a lot of these healthcare workers when they’re done rounding on the COVID units and things like that they have that impression on their face where they had the N95. Usually wearing that for long periods of time could be difficult.
With the surgical masks they don’t have any ventilation on them they don’t have any of those filters on them. And so really it’s intended to protect, it’s really intended to filter out about 70% of the particles that you inhale in. So really if you have a valve there, the valve is getting rid of that protection. So those valve ones are no good."
Q: I use a cloth mask with the PM2.5 insert and it seems to work well. Can I get more details on how effective the inserts are?
Dr. Sobhanie: “So I’m not really sure about those specific inserts. Here’s what I would say and I’ve done this myself as well. When I grab a surgical mask, I have masks that I like, cloth masks that I have used. So I usually put them on top of the surgical mask. But it’s really important to see what the filters are that are available in terms of the mask and then to use those. The surgical masks are really good masks as long as they are worn appropriately and really the thing is that it needs to be, needs to cover the entire face specifically the nose and the mouth.”
Q: What constitutes a 'surgical' mask? I certainly haven't found any that say they are for surgical use.
Dr. Sobhanie: “The surgical masks are actually regulated through the FDA. And these tend to be masks that they know filter out 70%. So if it does say that these are surgical masks, then you know that these are surgical masks and they filter out about 70% of the material there. N95s are regulated by NIOSH. If you want to look for a mask and you’re looking online, there are a lot of great resources to look at, but one of the big ones to look at is to see if it does say they are surgical masks. Some of them will clearly say not intended for surgical use.”
Q: And if they are not intended for surgical use, are those certain masks still good?
Dr. Sobhanie: “I would say those masks are better than cloth masks. I think the cloth masks really are, I think the cloth masks really are something that we’re not going to go to, to be honest with you. The reason why is we know that the layer of filtration is pretty flimsy. I think with the non-surgical masks it just means that they haven’t been evaluated by the FDA.
"I can tell you when I go out in public, I usually wear one of those same surgical masks and then I put a cloth mask on top of it. It’s really important to see what your surroundings and your environment is.
"See what your surroundings are. If you’re going to a big indoor place like grocery shopping right and the people are spread out pretty well then those surgical masks should be fine. If you’re going to be in a crowded area where people are lined up shoulder to shoulder, and everybody’s talking, then those are the times you may say I should double mask or maybe I should wear a surgical mask and a cloth mask on top of it.”
Q: I purchased KN95 masks from a pharmacy. There is an engraved marking "GB2626-2019" on the mask. Are you able to discern from the attached photos and the engraved marking whether or not these masks are legit?
Dr. Sobahnie: “That is a great question that I really don’t have an answer to. Those masks are designed, KN95’s are designed in China and they have their regulatory process and the KF94s are designed in Korea and they have their own regulatory process.
"Those are a tricky situation as well. I will say that as more questions about masks are emerging, there are different organizations out there that kind of go through the process ..regardless of what mask I think people do choose to wear, right now, I do think the important thing is that everybody does wear a mask. I think one of the struggles with the pandemic is that we all want answers pretty quickly in terms of like, ‘OK what am I supposed to do?’ As more and more data become available, then we have to amend the guidelines or make recommendations as more data becomes available. So one thing that’s said today may not be true the next day or we may have to change our compass.”\
Use these links to ensure your mask is not a fraud: