But before the rants, here are the WaPo’s recommendations for what to look for in a mask. You probably already know most of this because you are smart and well-informed, but just in case…
“So, we’re not going to recommend any specific brands. There simply hasn’t been enough medical research comparing retail mask options for us to rank any particular product over others. But we can tell you what to avoid, and give you some advice to help you narrow your web searches and shopping list.
“Avoid futuristic or gimmicky looking masks. Quite a few sellers have been advertising masks with “breathable valves” or vents sewn into the fabric. These don’t work, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. No matter how slick it looks, the valve defeats the purpose of the mask, which is to completely cover and filter your airways. Stay away from any mask with zippers, Velcro or mouth flaps for the same reasons.
“Surgical masks are good, if you can get one. The safest mask you can wear is an N95 mask, but these are in short supply and generally reserved for medical professionals. Simpler surgical or “medical procedure” masks — the powder blue ones in every hospital TV show you’ve ever seen — are good too, but again, you may have trouble finding a genuine one, depending where you live.
“That leaves the wide, wide world of simple fabric masks sold online and in stores. Many of them resemble the blue TV doctor masks, while others have patterns and look more like an article of clothing. How to pick the best one?
“Look for quality material. A non-peer reviewed study by the Royal Society found that masks with a high thread-count, made of cotton or a cotton-blend fabric performed better than competitors. Definitely stay away from loose-woven or knitted material, as well as neck gaiters. Also stay away from material that’s hard to breathe through, such as vinyl.
“Layers are good. Masks work by physically catching infectious particles as soon as they leave your mouth. Some particles will manage to pass through the first layer of fabric, so good masks should have at least two layers. Tom Frieden, who directed the CDC for eight years during the Obama administration, recommends looking for masks made of three layers.
“Washable is good. A good quality cotton-based mask can simply be hand washed with detergent or thrown in the washing machine at the end of the day, per the CDC. Just make sure you wash it after every use, or the mask can build up bacteria that you’ll be breathing in the next time you wear it.
“A web search should turn up plenty of options for washable, cotton-based, double or triple layer face masks. Any of them will be better than wearing no mask, and the differences between them may not be a matter of objective quality so much as which one works best for you.
“The mask needs to fit you, literally: If it’s too big and fits loosely around your cheeks, unfiltered air will leak out the edges. If it’s too small, it won’t fully cover your airways. But a mask also needs to fit your lifestyle and personal quirks. Find one that is comfortable and that you like wearing (or at least don’t totally hate.) It won’t matter how high the thread count is or how well it filters microscopic particles if you can’t stand keeping it on your face.”