N95 masks are some of the best on the market today. These masks block out 95% of all particles that could enter through the mouth and nose, keeping you and those around you safe from catching Covid-19. There are a lot of great features about the n95 mask that make them easy to use and wear, as well as more protective than their counterparts, the surgical mask and the cloth mask. Like the surgical mask, n95 respirators are single use only, made from a material designed to trap and hold particles from either side of the equation, coming from the person wearing them, or someone else either breathing, speaking, or coughing onto them from in front of the wearer. N95 masks though are made from a much more stiff, stronger material that rather than fitting to the face like a surgical mask, forms a dome over the mouth and nose for easier breathing and a separation between the material and the face. Also like surgical masks, n95 masks are fitted with a metal strip that goes over the bridge of the nose, allowing a tight grip by squeezing the metal around the nose. Unlike surgical masks though, the n95 is held in place by two long rubber strips that wrap around the head. One of the biggest differences between n95 respirator masks and surgical masks though, is that where a surgical mask will never have a removable valve, n95 masks often come with one.
What is a removable valve? A removable valve is a small, usually circular piece of plastic, like a bottle cap on the front of the mask. This cap acts as a filter most of the time, but can be unscrewed and taken off when needed. Now most of the time, this is not an important feature, since the only practical reason to remove one of these valves is to have a hole for breathable air to pass through unimpeded. Taking one off makes it easier to breathe in unfiltered air, but also puts the wearer and those around them at risk of being exposed to germs and bacteria, as though they weren’t wearing a mask at all. As you may guess, this is for the most part, a very undesirable outcome for anyone concerned with their own or other’s safety. So why have them at all? The valve is to allow for more breathable air, at a loss of efficiency in the filtration of particles. That is basically it. If you have a mask with a valve, you can take off the valve to get rid of hot air in the mask or make breathing a little easier.
All that said though, experts agree that the removing of the valve in a public space is the same as not wearing a mask at all, and as such, it should remain in place while you are in a public spot, or interacting with people who you do not know if they are vulnerable or know and interact with vulnerable people. Most valves are being filtered out, replaced with n95 masks that do not have an opening that may cause issues or make the spread of Covid-19 easier. So always remember that when you use a mask, make sure that it can completely block off the spread of particles in your area, and keep that Mask Up!