Breathable paper masks vs. comfortable cloth masks


Maddie Stout and Kate Clark

Breathable paper masks: Wearing surgical masks at school makes it easier to breathe

It’s 3:45 on a Tuesday afternoon I’ve never been more excited to leave school. I’ve spent the past seven hours in a cloth mask and I’m starting to get tired of it, like everyone else, I’m sure. It feels heavy on my face and it’s difficult to breathe in, but it’s only been a few days of in-person school, and I’m already antsy to take it off. How am I going to be able to do this for the rest of the year?

That night, I go home and I call up my best friend, Google. I plug in a few key terms to the search bar: “medical mask vs. cloth mask,” “CDC recommendations for masks,” and a couple other things that sound exactly like the strangely apocalyptic world we all live in right now.

I’m pretty shocked with what I find, to be honest: the CDC tells me that cloth masks are actually generally less effective than medical masks, and they recommend only using them as a last resort. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, cloth masks only protect others by reducing the amount of droplets expelled by the wearer while surgical masks protect both the wearer and whoever they come into contact with by creating a barrier between the two.

At first, this information seems backwards to me. Shouldn’t the heavier, seemingly less transparent cloth masks be better at keeping away dangerous particles? In my mind, a medical mask seems flimsy by comparison. Nevertheless, I decided to heed the CDC’s advice, laying out the pale blue mask with my uniform for the next day. 

As I arrive to class the next morning in my medical mask, I’m immediately struck by the dramatic changes. I can breathe! My classmates can hear me more clearly! It’s so much easier to work out that afternoon! The medical mask has become my new best friend. It’s easy to wear it for the entire school day, and is even becoming a bit comfortable.

As an added benefit, I’m no longer getting headaches from the cloth mask’s straps against my ears, and I’m not worried about having to wash them often enough or running out. Instead, I have an abundance of them, setting a few in my backpack, a few in my car, and wherever else I think I would need one.

I continue to wear it to school, and over time I’ve grown to prefer the medical mask, feeling much more safe in it than the cloth one after reading the CDC’s reports.

I have encountered a few problems, though: as I throw away more and more paper masks, I have become increasingly concerned about the effect they have on the environment and plastic pollution, which is only going up. On a smaller, less important note, they are not nearly as fashionable as a cloth mask that I can match with my outfit, the blue standing out against most colors.

However, despite these faults I will continue to wear my medical mask to school and whenever I go out. After testing both options and researching how to properly use a disposable mask for the best environmental impact (making sure to immediately place them in the trash and keeping from recycling them), I’ve come to the conclusion that paper masks are the best, most effective option to keep myself and others safe.

By Maddie Stout, Arts and Life Co-Editor

Comfortable cloth masks: Cloth masks are stylish and comfy with a twinge of creativity. 

I have an unpopular opinion: I like wearing masks. Right before I jump in the car to go to school, I stop at the perfectly located drawer full of cloth masks, pick my personal statement of the day, and off I go. 

At school, I walk through the hallways, admiring the colorful patterns and unique options my classmates have chosen: a tie- dye mask here and a camouflage mask there. In all my six years at Hockaday, I have never seen personal style expressed other than the three free dress days a year. Now, although our faces may be covered, I can see people’s personality through their mask. So, why fit back in by wearing a blue surgical mask?

We go to school with uniforms: we dress the same, with plaid skirts, white shirts, and jackets that require a name written in the tag or they will be lost forever. But masks are unique. So, I choose cloth masks to style up the green and white.

Cloth masks also are more comfortable than the disposable version. I would rather have a soft cloth against my face than the feeling of rough paper. Besides, it’s getting colder and the cloth is keeping my face nice and bundled, especially against the cold wind on the walk up from the parking lot. 

Adding to the bonuses, cloth masks are much more environmentally friendly than surgical masks. Instead of throwing the mask into the trash where it will pile up and lay wasted in a dumpster, I simply wash and re-wear the mask.

Stylish, comfortable, environmentally friendly and unique, my masks are also keeping me safe.

Cloth masks, according to the CDC, are essential to fight COVID-19. But there are some requirements to ensure the effectiveness of the cloth masks: they must have two or more layers, be made of breathable, washable fabric and cover the nose and mouth. My masks check those boxes. Check to make sure yours does, too. 

Also, my cloth masks are helping our health heroes. The light blue masks are surgical masks, and they are in short supply. The CDC recommends wearing cloth masks instead of N95 respirators or surgical masks, so those can be reserved for the health care providers.

If we want this pandemic to end, we need to wear these masks like our life depends on it– because it does. So, express your personality and style, help our health care providers and wear a cloth mask!

By Kate Clark, Managing Editor