How protective is your mask? New CDC numbers show not all masks are created equal

MADISON, Wis.– As the pandemic began, most of us were walking around with cloth masks covering our faces. Then, many upgraded to surgical masks. And later, N95s. Although three of the most common masks look similar, they provide very different levels of protection.

A new study from the CDC shows just how different.

The N95/KN95

Doctors consider these the ‘gold standard.’ After all, N95s got their name because they filter out 95% of all air particles. According to the new CDC study, conducted between February and December 2021, N95s offer 83% more protection than wearing no mask indoors.

The surgical mask

The next best mask is the surgical kind. These masks filter roughly 80% of all air particles. The CDC found these masks offer 66% more protection than going unmasked.

The cloth mask

Medical experts say these are much more unpredictable, but most hover around 50%, meaning half of the time, they do their job.

The takeaway

  1. The most effective mask is the one that you will wear and can keep on in public settings
  2. The CDC’s new data is consistent with existing research showing masks are effective.

Last month, the Biden administration made 400 million free N95 masks available to the public. You can find those at most Madison-area pharmacies, including Walgreens, CVS, Hy-Vee, and Walmart.

RELATED: How to make your N95 mask last

If you don’t have an N95, and are looking for greater protection, try layering. Doctors say wearing a surgical mask on top of a cloth mask is nearly as protective as a respirator.