Dr. Fauci Just Said This Is the "Best Type of Mask to Use"

There's "no doubt" that this mask is the best, says Fauci.

As we wait for herd immunity, which could take months according to the most optimistic timelines, your mask is one of the best and simplest tools for preventing a COVID infection. And while there are many masks on the market, Anthony Fauci, MD, the White House's chief COVID adviser, says there's one that stands heads and tails above the rest. Read on for more on what mask Fauci recommends, and for more tips on face coverings, check out If You Have This Mask, Get a New One Now, Experts Say.

While speaking with David Ignatius, a columnist for The Washington Post, in a Feb. 2 interview for Washington Post Live, Fauci said the N95 is "the best type of mask to use" in response to one viewer's question: "Why are N95 masks—or the equivalent for non-hospital use—why are they still so hard to find?"

"Well, that's a good point in that originally, when we were talking about masks, you didn't want to take them out of the availability of the people who really needed them, namely the people who were being health care providers," said Fauci. "But there's no doubt that the classic N95 mask is the best type of a mask to use. I mean, when I'm seeing patients under conditions of containment, I wear it," he said.

Technically considered a type of respirator, N95 masks offer more protection than other mask types because they can filter out both large and small particles with 95 percent efficacy, according to the Mayo Clinic. And as Fauci explained to Ignatius, the key to an N95's efficacy is its fit. He shared that when he dons one for work, someone will test the fit by sticking a small tube underneath the rim to determine if air can pass through the barrier seal. "You start to breathe and realize that nothing is getting in there, but it is able to come out when you breathe," he said, referring to the air exhaled through the filtered material.

Looking for more masks with near-N95-level protection? Read on for more expert-endorsed alternatives, and for the one mask you should avoid at all costs, check out This One Type of Face Mask Is "Unacceptable" Warns the Mayo Clinic.

KN95 masks

Side view with focus on background of mature Caucasian mother and teenage daughter wearing protective masks as they travel by airplane in time of COVID-19.

While speaking with Ignatius, Fauci mentioned that the KN95 is a more readily available alternative to an N95. While these are produced in China and therefor made to Chinese efficacy standards rather than U.S. standards, these are believed to protect against 95 percent of small particles when made by reputable companies. For that reason, it's best to stick to the specific brands which have been approved by the FDA for emergency use. Fauci adds that the CDC is currently reviewing KN95 brands to determined which may serve as the best N95 alternatives. And to learn which masks to avoid, check out The CDC Warns Against Using These 6 Face Masks.

Surgical masks

a young woman in a yellow sweater wearing a surgical mask

As Fauci notes, N95s have one major drawback: they're not very comfortable to wear for long periods of time. "When I wear [an N95] with patients, David, I have it on like maybe for 40 minutes at a time or half an hour at a time, but to wear it all day could be a bit uncomfortable as opposed to the much more smooth type of either cloth or surgical masks," he said.

Fauci suggests that instead of wearing an N95 at all times, you might be able to switch to a surgical mask in lower-risk scenarios. You can also modify the fit of a surgical mask to make its efficacy comparable to an N95 using this clever rubber band hack. And for more mask hacks to try out, find out why Doing This to Your Mask Could Keep You Even Safer From COVID, Experts Say.

Cloth masks with a baby wipe insert

two cloth masks on wooden table with filter pockets

According to one recent study, multi-layer DIY cloth masks can be made as effective as N95s by adding a dry, three-ply baby wipe as a middle filter layer. "Baby wipes are typically made of spunlace and spunbond polypropylene—similar to the types of polypropylene found in medical masks and N95 respirators," explains Jane Wang, PhD, a clinical professor in the faculty of medicine at the University of British Columbia School of Biomedical Engineering. And for more regular COVID updates sent right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Double masks

Woman with double masks

Wearing a cloth mask on top of a surgical mask, or wearing a layer of nylon over a surgical mask, can greatly increase the mask's efficacy. Fauci described it as "common sense" that a second mask or layer would up your level of protection by creating an additional physical boundary between you and the virus. And for more essentials tips on double-masking, check out If You Wear Your Mask Like This, You're Not Getting "Maximal Protection."

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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