Not all masks are created equal. The important metric you need to pay attention to is the filtration factor. It will range from 0 to 95 percent.
In March 2020, Koreans were mainly masked up with a government distribution plan of medical grade face masks. They’re called KF-94, which is the Korean-made equivalent of the N95 masks in the United States. KF-94 masks filter out 94 percent of microparticles when worn perfectly. N95 masks filter out 95 percent of microparticles when worn perfectly. Because of a shortage of medical grade masks for medical workers in the U.S., it seems the American government danced around mask wearing to prevent hoarding. The Great Toilet Paper Panic of 2020 certainly showed what Americans were capable of.
Early on, medical doctors said masks would be useless because almost no normal person would wear a medical grade mask perfectly. What a grave misstatement. It would be true that masks were ineffective if coronavirus were a virus where one tiny particle that enters a mask would kill you. But we’ve seen now that it takes fresh or strongly viable virus particles in a certain dosage attaching to your receptors (mainly lungs) that can infect you. So masks, regardless of quality, can reduce the amount of viable particles floating around in public.
However, instead of debating whether to wear a mask or not, the United States should be arguing over how to increase access to higher and higher quality masks as long as the medical community is well stocked first. Korea shut down exports of its high quality masks and massively boosted production. (Exports have resumed in limited quantities.)
Now in addition to KF-94, we have KF-80 (80 percent filtration), KF-AD (anti-droplet which is about 50 percent filtration), dental masks (also about 50 percent) and the ‘fashion masks’ made of cloth or neoprene that offer almost no real protection.
The masks I’ve seen on the majority of Americans are in the lower quality spectrum. To curb this virus more quickly, we need more Americans buying higher quality masks. They’re disposable and for daily use. So it should be easier to maintain than those cloth masks and bandanas.
A range of quality can also give back what many anti-maskers seem to feel like they’re losing: control. For example, if you’re going to the airport or using crowded public transportation, try to use the KF-94 for the most protection. If you’re going to go jogging outside, try using the dental mask for more breathability. If it’s raining, use the KF-AD because it’s breathable and waterproof.
we need more americans buying higher quality masks
Korea made it a national priority and put the government budget to use to coordinate with private industry to increase access to affordable, high-quality masks. It used Korea’s network of neighborhood pharmacies for distribution of discounted masks. With all these budget negotiations in the U.S., where’s the money for high quality masks for the masses?