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N95 respirators and surgical masks (face masks) are examples of personal protective equipment that are used to protect the wearer from airborne particles and from liquid contaminating the face. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also regulate N95 respirators.

It is important to recognize that the optimal way to prevent airborne transmission is to use a combination of interventions from across the hierarchy of controls, not just PPE alone.

N95 Respirators Not for Use by the General Public

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend that the general public wear N95 respirators to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including coronavirus (COVID-19). Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for health care workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance.

N95 Respirators

An N95 respirator is a respiratory protective device designed to achieve a very close facial fit and very efficient filtration of airborne particles.

The ‘N95’ designation means that when subjected to careful testing, the respirator blocks at least 95 percent of very small (0.3 microns) test particles. If properly fitted, the filtration capabilities of N95 respirators exceed those of face masks. However, even a properly fitted N95 respirator does not completely eliminate the risk of illness or death.

CDC Recommends Cloth Face Coverings for Use by the General Public

The CDC recommends that members of the public use simple cloth face coverings when in a public setting to slow the spread of the virus since this will help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. For more information, see the CDC’s Recommendation Regarding the Use of Cloth Face Coverings, Especially in Areas of Significant Community-Based Transmission.

The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. However, as a reminder, the CDC always recommends everyday preventive actions, such as hand washing and maintaining at least 6 feet of social distancing, to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases.

An N95 respirator is a respiratory protective device designed to achieve a very close facial fit and very efficient filtration of airborne particles. Note that the edges of the respirator are designed to form a seal around the nose and mouth. Surgical N95 Respirators are commonly used in healthcare settings and are a subset of N95 Filtering Facepiece Respirators (FFRs), often referred to as N95s.

The similarities between surgical masks and surgical N95s are:

  • They are tested for fluid resistance, filtration efficiency (particulate filtration efficiency and bacterial filtration efficiency), flammability, and biocompatibility.
  • They should not be shared or reused.

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