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Breakdown of the different types of masks that are available during the current COVID-19 pandemic

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic that has hit the world on an unprecendented scale, wearing a face mask when setting foot out the house has become mandatory in many countries. There are many different type of masks that are currently being sold, and it might be confusing deciding which type of mask you should use.

Generally, masks can limit the spread of a disease from an infected person, and/or they can protect the wearer from becoming infected. In the case of COVID-19, transmission of the virus is reportedly through respiratory droplets, expelled from the body when infected people cough or sneeze.

Below, we've done a breakdown on the purpose of each type of mask, and which types to wear when going out.

1. N95 Respirator or Equivalent


N95 is a brand that is patented by 3M. There are also other variants such as KN95 in the market. The N’ in N95 means it is Not resistant to oil, and filters out 95 percent of airborne particles such as bacteria or viruses. Users usually need to be mask-fitted first before wearing the appropriate N95 mask size, as a very tight fit is needed, which can be uncomfortable.

Who to wear:

  • Medical or healthcare workers who have direct contact with infected patients

  • This is donned together with full PPE (Personal Protective Equipement)

  • Offers the most protection to minimise chances of being infected by the virus. 

Medical mask

This is the most commonly used standard face mask. It comes in 2-, 3- or 4-ply versions - with the 3-ply version offering sufficient protection. The outer layer is fluid resistant and provides the wearer protection against large droplets, splashes, or sprays of bodily or other hazardous fluids. It also helps to prevents any large particles expelled by the users' respiratory emissions (cough or sneeze) from getting into the air. The filtration level is high but it does NOT provide the wearer with a reliable level of protection from inhaling smaller airborne particles. The fit is looser than N95 but it is more comfortable to wear.

Who to wear:

3. Cloth Mask

Cloth mask

This type of masks is made from fabric and there are many designs available in the market. It can be used when 3-ply medical face masks are not available. It is mainly worn to prevent dust or pollen from getting into your respiratory tract. Its filtration level is low, but it can prevent large particles expelled by the wearer from entering the environment. Paired with social distancing and frequent handwashing, it can also effectively minimise the spread of the virus in the wider population. Cloth masks are usually comfortable to wear.

Who to wear:

  • It can be used by the general population when 3-ply medical face masks are not available

4. Sponge or Foam Mask

Sponge mask

This type of masks are made from sponge or foam, which may include a layer of disposable filtration material underneath. Its purpose and usage is similar to a cloth mask. The look of this mask is aesthetically pleasing and comfortable to wear, which makes it appealing to the younger generation. However, its filtration level is the lowest, especially when there is no filtration material attached.

Who to wear:

  • It can be used by the general population when 3-ply medical face masks are not available

  • Has to be used together with filtration material layers underneath

In Singapore, you are required to wear a mask if you need to leave your house as of 14 April 2020. The Multi-Ministry Taskforce has decided to make it mandatory for all persons to wear a mask when leaving their home.

When should I wear a mask?

  • When outside of your home

  • On public transport, taxis, and private hire cars

  • Walking to or at markets

  • For esssential workers at all workplace premises

When can I remove my mask? Only while engaging in strenuous exercise outdoors such as running and jogging, but you must put it back on once you have completed your exercise Can my child wear a mask?

Mask-wearing is not recommended for young children below the age of 2 for child safety reasons.

NOTE: Enforcement will be flexible for groups with difficulty wearing a mask, eg. children with special needs.

Is it an offence if I don’t wear a mask outside my home?

Yes. First-time offenders will be issued fined $300, and repeat offenders will face higher fines or prosecution in court. The mask-wearing requirement will be in effect during the circuit breaker period from 7 April till 1 June 2020.

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