Some Covid masks are better than others. I know – I’m the Mask Nerd | Aaron Collins

As a mechanical engineer with a background in aerosol science, I usually questioned why months into the pandemic we had been nonetheless utilizing fabric masks. Individuals used comparable coverings throughout the Spanish flu pandemic in 1919, extra than 100 years in the past. I knew better masks expertise existed, and other people wanted to know about it.

So I launched into a year-long mission to check, doc, and evaluation the greatest masks I might discover. This finally entailed constructing a mini aerosol laboratory in my toilet, with scientific devices able to measuring particles 1/50,000th the width of a human hair. I have a public database for my outcomes. And a Youtube channel. Over time I started to be often known as the Mask Nerd.

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With the Omicron variant spreading round the world, the most typical query I get continues to be the most simple: what sort of masks ought to I be carrying?


If attainable, not a fabric or surgical one. These masks are reasonably efficient at capturing particles popping out of your individual mouth – what we engineering nerds name “supply management”. However they provide little safety in opposition to incoming particles. We name this half – how properly the masks protects the wearer – respiratory safety.

A typical fabric masks, whereas better than nothing, solely supplies round 30-60% safety to the wearer. Surgical masks, whereas better at 40-80%, lack a decent match to the face, leading to giant quantities of leakage round the masks.

A lot, a lot better masks exist. These are typically referred to as high-filtration masks, or by the technical identify of a filtering facepiece respirator. Such high-performance masks present important safety to the wearer at ranges that are between 5 and 10 occasions that of a fabric masks, whereas additionally offering important safety to others.

Actually, merely carrying a high-filtration masks should buy you important time if uncovered to infectious people. Analysis and studies suggest that with fabric or surgical masks, the danger of an infection might improve inside minutes of being round others with both no masks or low-performing masks. Nevertheless with the use of properly becoming, high-filtration masks, this similar degree of publicity would now take hours to turn into harmful. Nevertheless, it needs to be famous that being round a contagious individual at all times carries some danger.

Past the precise elevated safety from potential publicity, these masks present a psychological enchancment in day-to-day life, as you not have to concern your self with the indisputable fact that these round it’s possible you’ll desire to put on their fabric masks beneath their chin.

One may assume primarily based on the technical identify, “respirator”, that these could be some Darth Vader-style headpiece – cumbersome and troublesome to breathe in. Nevertheless it’s fairly the reverse. These masks function a high-tech materials referred to as electrostatically charged meltblown polypropylene (fairly a mouthful). It options tightly spaced micron-sized fibres – about 1/fiftieth the diameter of a human hair – which have an electrostatic cost utilized to them to catch even smaller particles. This materials can filter particles that are a just some nanometres in dimension.

Probably the most superb factor, although, is that whereas offering almost 99% safety from typical Covid respiratory aerosols, these supplies additionally present breathability that surpasses that of a typical three-layer fabric masks.

When selecting a masks you wish to have a look at three standards: filtration, consolation and match. Respirators present not solely the filtration, however consolation from extremely breathable supplies, and a decent sealing to the face by the design of the masks.

That is what makes respirators such a straightforward choice: you needn’t fear about something different than discovering one that matches your face. This ensures that every one the air flows by the masks, not round it.

In the EU and UK, the FFP2 commonplace is my advice for the normal public. It options each ear-loop and headband varieties, is available in quite a lot of colors, and usually prices much less than a pound. Regulator oversight by numerous EU and UK authorities our bodies helps to make sure a high quality product.

A 3M N95 mask.
A 3M N95 masks. {Photograph}: Canadian Press/REX/Shutterstock

In the US, the frequent NIOSH N95 is a good choice, however it’s restricted to headbands solely. Ear-loop masks are out there through different worldwide respirator requirements, reminiscent of the KF94 (in South Korea) or KN95 (China). Nevertheless it needs to be famous that the KN95 is a self-reported take a look at commonplace, and lacks strict authorities regulation by China, leading to many underperforming and infrequently flat-out pretend masks. The KF94 is much less affected by this, as it’s regulated by the Korean equal of the FDA.

In my yr of testing almost 100 completely different masks, I have discovered over and over that there are high-performing masks that outperform fabric masks, whereas nonetheless that includes many issues folks like about their fabric masks.


Mask makers reminiscent of Masklab and Posh have created extremely ornamental designed masks, with shiny colors and complicated patterns. Many KF94 masks function built-in ear-loop adjusters, making for a snug, however tight match. Different masks makers reminiscent of 3M – with the 9152 (9105 in the US), a masks that helps the wearer breathe as if there have been none on their face, whereas additionally offering a full vary of movement for the jaw – present nice choices for singers and choruses.

With ample provides of those masks out there and a extra transmissible variant on our doorstep, there has by no means been a better time to up your masks recreation. I encourage folks to exit and check out just a few completely different varieties, discover what they like and what suits their face.

Except for serving to people select the greatest masks for themselves, I would additionally encourage governments to extend the home manufacturing of masks, which might not solely create jobs, but in addition permit regulatory oversight and a provide of efficient, protected masks for his or her residents. And good masks needs to be offered freed from cost to the many that will not be capable of afford them.

Not all masks are created equal, so it’s time to verify everybody is aware of about high-filtration masks. These easy, cheap and super-effective masks could make a major distinction in our struggle in opposition to Covid. In the event you put on a masks, you may as properly make it rely by carrying the greatest.

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