Back in 2011 we posted this video from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Respirator Safety Video discussing the difference between respirators and surgical masks is a very good video to better understand the difference between these two pieces of equipment that can protect you from particular hazards.
There is a lot of confusion currently (during the coronavirus pandemic) about the difference between these two items. The video above gives you a basic understanding. To expand on that information realize the surgical mask does not protect the user from what's in the air its not designed to be a filter. It's designed to protect the public from what the individual wearing it has. Hence its popularity in Asian countries where it is considered a courtesy to wear it when you're sick. See the chart below for more differences.
One more point, don't touch the filter it could be contaminated. If you do immediately wash your hands or if unavailable use alcohol-based hand sanitizer. If you're sick you wear the surgical mask and keep your distance (3 feet or arms-length or the preferrable 6 feet) or better yet stay home! If you are trying not to get sick you wear the N95 respirator. However, if you have not been fit tested with the respirator, have not performed the fit check, have facial hair, or not wearing it properly then the respirator would be better off in a Doctor, Nurse, or Emergency Responders hands to help them with the shortages they are experiencing. Just keep your distance or better yet stay at home!!!