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As the delta variant now accounts for the majority of coronavirus cases in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising people, regardless of vaccination status, to remain diligent about safety precautions — including mask-wearing.
While you likely have accumulated an arsenal of fabric masks at this point, with the summer heat and the need for masks with higher filtration efficiencies, disposable options might seem like a favorable pick right now.
While medical-grade masks should still be left for frontline workers, there are non-medical grade disposable face masks that can help reduce the rate of transmission of droplets and slow the spread of coronavirus.
Whether you prefer the feel of disposable masks or need a mask that you can switch out frequently, we asked the experts what qualities you should look for.
How to choose a disposable mask
Any mask you choose, whether disposable or fabric, should be one that is well constructed. It should be efficient at blocking particles from escaping your mask while also offering you some degree of protection from the droplets of others.
"With the new strains and variants of Covid-19 that have emerged, we're seeing in real time that they have a much easier ability to be transferred from person to person," Stephen Ferrara, associate dean of Clinical Affairs at Columbia Nursing, told Shop TODAY earlier this year. "The messaging should be don't just wear any mask, but wear a mask that is high quality."
"The wearer is protecting others from themselves and vice versa, so I can't stress enough the fact that masks are essential," Ferrara added.
Fabric masks and disposable masks are constructed differently, but the overall qualities to look for remain the same when choosing either one. As with cloth masks, the more layers in a disposable mask, the better.
“The mask should be a wearable thing, it should be breathable and it should have multiple layers, two to three layers," Waleed Javaid, MD, director of Infection Prevention and Control at Mount Sinai Downtown, told Shop TODAY. "For a majority of manufactured masks, it might be a little difficult, but you can rub the layers together to feel how many are in there."
How long can I wear a disposable mask?
If you are using a mask sporadically, you might be able to wear it on multiple occasions before it is time to swap it for a new one. Of course, it depends on how long you wore the mask for that day, if you were performing any strenuous activities while wearing it and if the mask was exposed to moisture.
"If you’re exercising in it or if you’re wearing it throughout the day, I think at the end of the day, it's time to get rid of the mask," Richard Martinello, MD, associate professor of Medicine (Infectious Diseases) and of Pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine, told Shop TODAY. "But if somebody works in a private office or if they’re a student and they’re in their room on Zoom with no mask on all day and they only wear a mask periodically, that mask may actually remain reasonable for them to wear for a longer period of time."
However, if you frequently are feeling moisture on the mask or if you sneeze inside the mask, replacing it with another disposable mask is best practice.
What is the difference between disposable and medical masks?
There are a lot of terms regarding masks that are floating around. Paying attention to the labeling of the masks you are looking to purchase is key in figuring out how exactly the mask is intended to be used.
"You can imagine a Venn diagram where we have 'face coverings' which is just a broad term — you know, from bandanas to surgical masks and respirators," Martinello said. "And then 'medical masks' are just masks that are developed for use in the health care setting and 'surgical masks' are a subset of that and are really characterized by their fluid resistance properties."
Regardless of which mask you are using, the most important factor is wearing it correctly, meaning it fits snugly and fully around your nose and mouth.
"Something that is so important for masks to work well is that they need to sit well," Martinello said. "Somebody can have a mask with great filtration capabilities, but if the mask does not fit them well then it is not going to provide the source control that is desirable; where it contains individual respiratory droplets and it also may not protect that individual as well as they would like."
Below, we rounded up a few disposable masks that you can purchase in bulk to help protect yourself and others. Although we haven't had the chance to try them, each of the masks included meet criteria described by the experts above, such as number of layers and adjustable fit.
Best disposable face masks
This celeb-loved brand makes disposable face masks in a variety of colors and designs. Each 3-ply evolvetogether mask (matte black versions are 4-ply) features three layers of filtration and offers a bacteria filtration efficiency (BFE) that is greater than 98% and a particle filtration efficiency greater than 95%. They are also available in kid sizes.
Maskc's masks come in packs of 10 in a resealable bag for easy storage and access. The 3-ply masks feature a moisture-proof inner layer, a melt-blown center and a non-woven exterior layer. They offer a bacterial filtration efficiency greater than 95% and also boast an adjustable nose wire.
Tatube sells face masks in the standard blue color, and each mask is triple-layered. A high density layer is placed between two non-woven layers that help block particles while remaining breathable. Over 7,000 verified reviewers gave these masks a five-star rating, with many shoppers calling out the comfortable feel and high quality.
These bestsellers from Wecolor also feature three layers and are made from a non-woven fabric. The nose wire helps conform the mask to your face while the brand describes the "low pressure" ear loops allow for a comfortable fit.
Another pack of sleek black masks, these bestsellers feature three layers as well as a nose wire. The brand describes the material as having a melt-blown polypropylene filtration layer, which makes it resilient and easy to wear.
These three-layer masks from Diolv feature an adjustable nose wire and should be replaced every four hours, according to the brand. Each pack includes 50 masks, and there are seven different colors to choose from, so you can grab a fresh mask for everyday wear. They've amassed over 6,000 five-star reviews from shoppers who have noted how lightweight and breathable they feel.
While leaving N95 masks and other medical-grade PPE for frontline workers is still a best practice, these non-NIOSH approved, non-medical KN95 masks have been authorized for emergency use in the United States. It follows CDC recommendations for KN95 masks and is made from five filtrating layers. These masks arrive with a pre-paid label so you can send your masks back to VIDA for recycling, as part of the brand's sustainability program.
For more stories like this, check out:
- How to choose the best face mask filter, according to experts
- Need a comfortable pair of shoes? 10 nurse-approved pairs for all day wear
- 32 breathable face masks you can exercise in