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Published on July 08, 2020

Face Masks: Know What Type to Wear and When

Set of different kinds of masks.

With recommendations to wear face masks, it’s important to know the different types and which mask is most appropriate for you. Here Wayne UNC Health Care Director of Infection Control Chanda Newsome answers your frequently asked questions and offers best practices for using masks during the COVID-19 outbreak.

What is an N95 mask, and how is it used?

N95 masks, or N95 respirators, are commonly used by healthcare workers in need of a higher level of protection. These masks fit close to the face and are made of higher filtration material than regular masks, filtering out 95% of airborne particles. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend that the general public wear N95 masks, because they must be properly fit to provide the 95% filtration level. N95 masks come in different shapes and sizes, and all healthcare workers are fit-tested and provided with the mask that fits them correctly. 

Healthcare professionals use N95 masks when they need protection from airborne hazards while treating patients.

How are isolation and surgical masks different from N95 masks?

Isolation and surgical masks are designed to protect healthcare workers from large respiratory droplets and contact with splashes. Rectangular in shape, isolation masks are commonly worn by healthcare workers while providing direct patient care. Surgical masks are worn during surgical procedures.

How effective are cloth masks?

While N95, isolation and surgical masks are designed to provide protection from those around us, cloth masks are used to protect others from our respiratory droplets.  Cloth masks are recommended to be worn by the general public any time social distancing cannot be maintained.

If you live in the state of North Carolina, it is now a requirement for the general public to wear a face mask in settings where social distancing can’t be safely maintained. Outside the state, the CDC still strongly encourages the public to wear cloth masks.

Made at home masks are fine. The important thing is to have a thick enough material that can better block germ particles. Layers of fabric can help.

Masks should only be worn if developmentally appropriate and if tolerated. The CDC says not to put a mask on a young child under the age of 2.

Do I need to wear a mask if I come to the hospital or any other healthcare facilities?

We’re asking anyone who comes to our hospital or clinics to wear a mask. We will provide you a mask that you must wear for the duration of your stay in the hospital.

How can I make wearing a cloth mask more comfortable?

A mask should fit securely over your nose and mouth. Do not slip your mask off your nose, or down around your chin. To work, the mask needs to cover your nose and mouth.

Just as important — when wearing the mask, try not to touch it. When you have to touch it – to remove it, for example – wash your hands with soap and water after. And, if you are using a cloth mask, make sure you’re washing the mask after a few wears so it stays clean.

Will a cloth mask protect me?

The main reason for wearing a cloth mask is to protect other people. If you are wearing a cloth mask over your mouth and nose and you cough or sneeze, the mask can catch respiratory droplets and keep them from landing on other people.

The cloth masks also keep you from inadvertently touching your mouth or nose with unwashed hands.

What To Do If You Have COVID-19 Symptoms?

If you are concerned you have been exposed or have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19), click the purple Coronavirus Help tab on the bottom of

This will bring up our coronavirus symptom checker that will lead you through some questions to determine if you need medical follow-up. You can also call your primary care provider.

Do not go to your doctor’s office or an urgent care without first determining if further medical screening is necessary.

If you are having difficulty breathing, call 911 or seek immediate treatment.