A cloth mask may be better than no mask. Maybe it helps with ‘source control’ (preventing your respiratory droplets from reaching others (‘my mask protects you, and your mask protects me’) but it isn’t going to keep you from catching Covid-19.
A surgical mask is better, but that’s a wide category and there are plenty of cheap ones that are no better than a cloth mask. If you’re looking for some protection in this category you want a level 3 procedure mask.
But if you travel, you find yourself in airports and on jet bridges, if you’re in indoor congregant settings with groups of other people then you want to use an N95 mask. These filter out at least 95% of particulates. They were tough to get early in the pandemic but that’s no longer the case.
Dr. Anthony Fauci lied and told people not to wear masks early in the pandemic. So did the Surgeon General. This was meant to be a ‘noble lie’ to keep people from buying ‘the good masks’ and competing for limited supplies with government and health care. That undermined trust in authorities telling people to use masks.
At the start of the pandemic public health guidance was that masking would lead people to touch their face more. It was pointed out that in hospital settings workers get N95 masks fitted. They learn to put them on and take them off correctly, so they’re protective for healthcare workers but not for the general public. I always thought the better answer was to educate people about proper mask wearing, not tell them they won’t know how to use them correctly.
I’ve written in the past about buying good masks. I’ve been recommending Accumed for N95 masks. And I’ve been suggesting following proper procedures for wearing them. There are plenty of instructional videos on YouTube.
Surgical N95s have been harder to get, especially from 3M, but you can buy N95s yourself and if you’re traveling I think you should. Buying ‘whatever’s available’ is good, but finding a mask that really fits your face well is better.
Aiden Health has an N95 ‘Fit Kit’ which contains 10 different styles of N95 masks for $49 so you can pick the one that both fits best and that you find most comfortable to wear. Here’s what it includes:
And here’s what’s inside the package:
Disclosure, they sent me a fit kit and I made a donation to charity for more than the retail price. They offer affiliate credit, I am not using affiliate links and I haven’t signed up for their program. This is your health and I think it’s important enough that I’d rather not deal with comments from anti-mask folks arguing that I have a conflict of interest in suggesting it.
What I like about Aiden Health is their variety, price, and clarity on what you’re buying. They have level 3 procedure masks for 50 cents apiece, KN95 masks for $2.20, and N95s from $3.32 each. They say they have over 100,000 N95 masks available. They also have plenty of gowns, gloves, sanitizer, wipes, and face shields. They spun up a non-profit (Operation Masks) back in March to provide PPE to health care workers, when government failed.
If you’re going to travel, wear a good mask that fits and learn how to use it. N95 masks are available, and increasingly so, I do not believe you should be wearing a cloth mask in the airport or in other crowded settings.