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The Daily Tar Heel

Editorial: What mask should you be wearing?

Following a cluster of COVID-19 cases, Carrboro High School will reinstate its indoor mask mandate starting Thursday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that anyone who is at least 2 years old wear a mask in indoor public places. UNC requires this in all indoor public spaces — like classrooms, libraries and indoor athletic events.

A variety of masks are available for purchase, some of which are more effective than others. We break down the most popular ones here:

Disposable surgical masks

When you forget your mask heading into Davis Library, these are the masks the front desk has available for you.

They are usually the cheapest option and are recommended to be worn under a cloth mask. When you wear these, you want to make sure they fit snugly over your nose, mouth and chin, and dispose of them after each use.

You can double mask or knot and tuck ear loops for a tighter fit.

Cloth masks

Cloth masks are what you generally see students wearing as they walk around campus.

Made from a variety of fabrics, readily available and comfortable, these types of masks are an easy choice — but they off the least protection against COVID-19.

If you choose to use a cloth mask, make sure that it fits over your nose, mouth and chin, is made of a thick fabric and has a nose wire. You can wear them repeatedly after washing. The CDC recommends washing as soon as the mask becomes dirty, or at least once a day.

It’s always a great idea to double mask with a disposable surgical mask underneath.

KN95 respirators

There are a few respirators that are designed and tested to meet international standards, such as the KN95. 

These may not always have a quality requirement, but when fitted properly, they seal tightly to your face and filter particles in the air. You want to make sure to use a high-quality product to get the maximum level of protection, and dispose of them when they become wet or dirty.

With these, there’s no need to double mask with a cloth mask or another respirator. But make sure to keep used and undamaged respirators dry after each use.

Respirators are designed to be used by adults in workplaces and have not been generally recommended for broad use in children.

N95 respirators

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has approved many filtering respirators, including N95 masks.

When worn consistently and properly, N95 masks provide the highest level of protection from particles and contain your respiratory droplets and particles to prevent you from exposing others. They seal tightly to your face when fitted correctly, and it’s imperative that you pick one that fits well.

However, you want to avoid purchasing specially labeled “surgical” N95 respirators, as these provide additional protection against hazards like blood splatter and should be reserved for use by health care personnel. Like KN95 respirators, these have also not been generally recommended for broad use in children.

Above all, it’s important to choose a mask or respirator that can be worn properly, and to follow the user instructions to make sure the product can work as intended.

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Masking has been proven to be a critical public health tool for preventing the spread of COVID-19. And to protect yourself, others and the community, it’s important to wear the most protective mask that you can wear consistently.