These are the best and worst face masks to protect from COVID-19

We may not love wearing them, but Americans are masking up more and more.

An increasing number of states, businesses and cities are requiring face masks to try to stop the spread of COVID-19.

But are you getting the proper protection?

You may have seen Instagram photos of drinking masks with a straw hole, or smoker masks with cigarette holes. While it’s nice to share some pandemic humor in a crisis, neither one will protect you.

The more serious concern: people wearing masks incorrectly, according to a pharmacist who sees them the wrong way all the time.

Troy Stinson of Mulvaney Medical Supply says many people don’t pinch their masks over their nose, leaving a gaping hole where the virus can enter and exit.

If it is a mask with ear loops, Stinson says: “You should hook it on one ear and pinch it over the nose, pull it around to the other ear, and bring it down below your chin.”

Stinson says he is often in stores where he sees plenty of “mouth masks” (where the nose is uncovered) and even “chin masks” (where both mouth and nose are uncovered).

Prevention Magazine, using statistics from a study by Florida Atlantic University researchers, listed mask types in order of effectiveness:

  • N95 (or the KN95 version) masks are best, but should be reserved for health professionals and those on the front lines, due to the need for millions in hospitals.
  • Multi-layer cloth masks are most effective for going out and about.
  • Paper cone masks are next best.
  • Folded handkerchiefs can work in a pinch.
  • Bandanas are least effective but offer some protection if nothing else is available.

Blue surgical cloth masks, with three layers of cotton, Stinson says, “are not going to give you as much protection as an N95 but will still offer the largest protection from droplets.”

One mask to avoid

Experts ask you to avoid vented contractor masks.

They don’t filter your breath at all on the way out, so while they make breathing easier, you are sharing any virus particles on your breath with everyone near you.

Vented masks give a false sense of security, the experts say.

Finally, the days of price gouging are just about over: Most drugstores and hardware stores should have masks in stock so you don’t waste your money.

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