01/24/2020 11:03 EST | Updated 04/06/2020 18:33 EDT

Coronavirus: Will An N95 Mask Or Paper Mask Really Protect You?

Is it worth getting one?

UPDATE: On April 6, 2020, Canada’s chief medical officer Dr. Teresa Tam acknowledged new research into face mask use in the prevention of COVID-19. She noted that cloth face masks can play a role in preventing asymptomatic people with COVID-19 from spreading it to others, if worn and washed properly. More information on how to safely make and wear a homemade mask here

Worry over COVID-19 is hitting Canada. 

Hundreds of people in China have fallen ill and the virus — a type of coronavirus — is blamed for the deaths of least 40 in the country. Other nations have reported cases of the illness in recent days, including the United States.

Several provinces are monitoring individuals for signs of the virus. In Canada, there are currently nine confirmed case and one presumed case. 

People are preparing in case the infectious virus reaches pandemic levels. Airports and hospitals are screening patients for possible symptoms.

For many, that preparation involves purchasing paper masks. But do they work? Here’s everything you need to know, according to the Toronto University Health Network

Do paper face masks protect against coronavirus?

No, and in fact information from the Health Network calls the paper masks “counterproductive.” A common paper mask will do little to protect you from the virus, as it leaves parts of your eyes and mouth exposed, and doesn’t filter specific particles. It’s an OK strategy if you have a cold or flu and don’t want to cough on people, but that’s about it. 

Does an N95 mask work?

A properly fitted N95 mask will protect against the virus. The mask gets its name because it filters out 95 per cent of particles greater than 0.3 microns in size. Often used to protect against smoke and fumes, these are professional-grade masks that need to be fitted to the individual person and changed frequently. 

Justin Sullivan via Getty Images
A nurse wears a N95 respiratory mask during a training session April 28, 2009 in Oakland, California during the height of the Swine Flu outbreak.


Where can I buy an N95 mask?

You can buy N95 masks at hardware stores, as well as big-box stores like Home Depot and Canadian Tire.

Do I need a mask?

Ultimately, the average person doesn’t need to run off and stock up on N-95s right now. Frontline health-care workers dealing directly with infected patients are the most likely market for them. Experts say the best strategy for the average Canadian to stay healthy is washing your hands and avoiding touching your hands to your eyes and mouth. 

The network also stressed that Canada is much better prepared to handle an outbreak than during the SARS outbreak that killed 44 people in Canada 17 years ago. We have updated communication, hospital and quarantine strategies if the virus does make it here.

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