Avi Varma, MD, Answers Your Mask FAQs

It’s been a year since the pandemic has changed our lives and though masks have become our new normal, navigating the world of PPE can be overwhelming. We partnered with Dr. Avi Varma, Board-Certified Family Medicine Physician and Public Health advocate, to help answer some of the most commonly asked questions. Dr. Varma works for a non-profit organization fighting the HIV epidemic in Atlanta, Georgia and she is a co-host of the popular podcast Brown Girl White Coat. Check out her website https://www.avivarmamd.com/ and find her on Instagram @dr.avivarma. 

Q: Why Do I Need to Wear a Mask?

A: Wearing a mask decreases the chances of spreading COVID-19 to others. Unfortunately, a large proportion of COVID-19 are asymptomatic in nature and you may not know that you even have COVID-19 when you don’t experience any symptoms. As a result, to keep others protected, it is important to mask up. Certain masks can also decrease your risk of getting COVID-19 when you are out in public. Until we reach herd immunity, it remains vital that we all continue to wear masks.

Q: Does It Matter What Type of Mask I Wear?

A: Yes, because some masks are not as effective at preventing the spread of respiratory droplets compared to others. I recommend double-or triple-layered cloth masks with a filter, a surgical mask layered with cloth mask or a KN95 mask. N95 masks should be reserved for medical personnel.

Q: How Can I Tell If My Mask Fits?

A: It is important to find a mask which fits snugly on your face. In order to determine whether a mask fits you properly, the mask must cover your nose and mouth completely. Additionally, the mask should fit snugly around the sides of your face. There should be no gaps on the top of your face or along the sides of your face where respiratory droplets can potentially escape through.

Q: What Should I Really Look for When It Comes to Filtration Rates, Layers, Certifications, Etc?

A: When choosing a mask, it is important to first see how many layers the mask has. A double- or triple-layered cloth or fabric mask is preferred to a single-layered mask. Cloth or fabric masks should contain a built-in or replaceable PM 2.5 filter. PM 2.5 indicates the particle size (i.e., airborne particles) that the mask keeps out. These types of masks will greatly reduce the spread of respiratory droplets. If you choose a surgical mask, you will likely need an additional cloth or fabric mask to wear over it for added protection. These types of masks can provide some level of protection to the wearer along with providing protection for others. If you choose a KN95 mask, this can be worn on its own. Similar to N95 masks, KN95 masks are made up of a strong material that is great at preventing airborne particles from entering through the mouth and nose with a 95% filtration rate. Unlike N95 masks, KN95 masks are not NIOSH-approved here in the United States. Therefore, they should not be used in exchange for N95 masks, particularly in a healthcare setting. In terms of certifications, it is important to see that the KN95 mask you use is FDA approved for emergency authorization.