Scientists actually tested whether N95 or regular surgical face masks were more effective in preventing infection with COVID-19 viruses such as the flu. These data will tell us if surgical masks or N95 are better at protecting against respiratory viruses such as COVID-19. I was surprised by the results.
COVID-19 & Mask Livestream
Are you curious about whether masks can protect you from COVID-19? You can check out our livestream recap that covers all the information here.
People's Intuitions about N95 Masks & COVID-19
These results are quite surprising, as I have seen many people claim that we require N95 Mask to stop the coronavirus. When it comes to COVID, they say that surgical masks won't do the trick.
A CNN interview with a doctor also revealed that masks don’t work.
To be honest, this is my intuitive opinion. The N95 masks are much more snug than surgical masks and calture a greater percentange of particles. These are what I wear in Delhi, Beijing, and other places to prevent air pollution.
The Surgical Mask vs. the N95 Mask Test
Randomly assigning more than 2,000 nurses N95 surgical masks was how scientists tested this question. They then tracked how many people got the flu.
To find out what people thought, I polled them on Twitter. A majority of people (68%) correctly guessed N95.
However, the data showed that the infection rates were almost the same.
Although there were no significant differences, surgical mask users had slightly lower rates of infection.
OK. Maybe That Study Was a Fumble
Data can be confusing. This is just one example. It's not the only one.
Canada researchers randomly assigned 446 nurses N95 or surgical masks for a few months during flu and cold seasons (September to December). They then tracked who got the flu and cold.
Again, no significant difference! Both masks were equally effective in preventing the spread of viruses. Around 9% of nurses who wore surgical masks fell ill, compared to 10% who wore N95 masks.
No-Mask Testing of Viruses
Australian researchers examined the care given by parents to their children who had the flu.
Researchers could randomly assign people to wear masks, even if they are near sick people, because people often don't wear them at home. Randomly, they assigned parents to wear a surgical mask, no mask, or an N95-like the one I'm wearing.
They then tracked the number of flu-infected parents.
Around 16% of parents who didn't wear a mask fell ill, compared with 8% for N95 and surgical masks (called "P2", in Australia). Masks seem to work, so it seems! However, surgical masks proved just as effective than N95 masks. The effect size was quite large, with half the infection rate.
The masks worked only for those who actually wore them. People who forgot to wear the masks or gave up trying were not able to reap any benefits.
How could Surgical Masks work as well as N95 Masks for Capturing Viral Viruses and COVID-19?
Okay, some people still have doubts. It's impossible for surgical masks to capture particles this small. Quora's doctor said that most surgical masks can't capture particles as small as viruses or COVID-19.
However, reality is much more fascinating when we look at the actual test data. Surgical maks prove to be very effective even for small particles. In one study, researchers found that simple surgical masks blocked 80% of the particles tested. This is even smaller than COVID-19 .
N95 masks still outperform In this study, for example, N95 masks captured 96%.
It's not surprising surgical masks work just as well! Perhaps virus particles can be captured easily because they are attracted to water droplets. Perhaps masks prevent people from touching their noses and mouths. At the moment, I am unable to speculate.
Bottom line: Both N95 and Surgical masks are equally effective against viruses
Scientific evidence has shown that masks can prevent flu infections and (2) surgical masks can prevent the infecting of viruses such as COVID-19.
Keep your safety in mind.
These particles are too small to be captured by masks.
This is a solid intuition that I have seen many times.
It doesn't match the data. Does wearing masks prevent the spread of coronavirus?
How can I protect myself
Smart Air is a acrredited B Corp that works to dispel the myths used by big companies to raise the cost of clean air. Smart Air offers empirically supported, no nonsense purifiers and masks that remove the same particles as big companies (COVID-19, PM2.5, pollen etc.). Smart Air offers the same benefits as big companies at a fraction of their cost. Clean air is only for corporations.