An N95 is the best Mask for Omicron. This is why

As health officials seek to minimize the spread of the highly contagious variant of Omicron, many experts have recommended that people switch from cloth or surgical masks to protective N95 and KN95 masks. higher guard.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) current mask guide does not recommend one mask over another, instead stating that people should wear a mask that fits tightly and covers their nose and mouth. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky says basic guidance won’t change — although recent report the opposite—But told reporters that the agency will soon release more information about the differences between the masks. At the same time, the federal government is trying to make medical-grade respirators more accessible to the public. On January 13, President Joe Biden said his administration would soon provide the public with free N95 masks, though he has yet to provide details.
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After living with COVID-19 for nearly two years, many people are still confused about which mask to wear and why. In the early days of the pandemic, federal health officials clearly ask members of the public not to wear masks, in a somewhat misguided attempt to preserve supplies for healthcare workers. Then, in April 2020, the CDC changed its guidelines for recommending masks — but specifically Ask everyone to wear face coverings not medical masks to stockpile inventory for medical staff.

Supply has stabilized Since then, many Americans have continued to wear cloth or thinner surgical masks instead of N95 or KN95 respirators. Here’s what to know about wearing a mask during the Omicron wave.

What is the difference between the masks?

It is still true that any mask is better than no mask at all. But all masks are not the same.

A properly worn N95 respirator can filter out up to 95% of airborne particles, thanks to its synthetic material and tight fit, which is made up of a network of tiny fibers charged by electrostatic energy. KN95 masks, China’s equivalent of N95, are designed to meet the same filtration standards, but have less regulatory oversight over their manufacture. Meanwhile, the KF94 mask is made in Korea. When manufactured to Korean government standards and properly worn, they filter out up to 94% of particles.

Surgical masks do not fight as closely and provide significantly less filtration than N95s, according to a 2020 study published year JAMA lingerie. Cloth masks act as a physical barrier but typically provide less filtration than surgical masks.

Which mask is best for Omicron?

Given its high transmissibility, “Omicron has really changed the way we need to protect ourselves from catching this disease,” said Dr. Mohammad Sobhanie, an infectious disease physician at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center said. Wearing a good mask is one of the ways to do that, along with best practices like vaccinations, social distancing, and ensuring good ventilation.

A recent study published in a magazine Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimates that the risk of COVID-19 transmission can be reduced by up to 75 times when both the sick person and those nearby wear an N95-style mask instead of a surgical mask. And a research review published in 2021 showed that N95 halves the risk of contracting COVID-19 among healthcare workers, compared with surgical masks. (Wall Street Magazine have a handy Infographics approximation of the transmission blocking degree of different masks.)

However, the N95 has its downsides. They can be uncomfortable, especially when worn for long periods of time. They can also be difficult to find and more expensive than simple surgical or cloth masks. If those barriers completely prevent you from wearing a mask consistently and correctly, then you might be better off with one, says Emily Sickbert-Bennett, director of infection prevention at UNC Medical Center. lower grade face coverings that you can commit to wearing.

“A well-equipped N95 will be the highest quality filter mask you can wear,” she said. But “the best mask you can wear is the one you’ll wear.” In testing conditions, the N95 clearly outperforms — but you also need to think about your actual behavior, she adds.

What if I want to continue wearing a cloth or surgical mask?

If you plan to continue wearing a cloth or surgical mask, make sure they are as functional as possible.

“The effectiveness of a mask is a combination of both how the filter material and how it fits your face,” says Sickbert-Bennett. Your mask should fit your face snugly with no significant gaps on the sides, top or bottom. Simple measures — like tying the ear flaps on a surgical mask to tighten the fit or wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask to cover more of your face — can improve protection, she he said.

Different situations may also require different types of masks, Sobhanie said. “If you are in a cramped area, then you may want to use a KN95 or N95 mask,” he said. But for lower-risk settings, such as a quick grocery in an uncrowded store , a surgical mask can do the job.

And while cloth masks and surgical masks don’t protect their wearer from all germs, research continues to show they can help protect others.

In research published January 12 in Journal of Infectious Diseases, the researchers measured the path of respiratory droplets and aerosols when the participants coughed while not wearing a face covering, cloth mask, and surgical mask. They found that particles traveled about four feet when the participants were not wearing masks, compared with about two feet in cloth masks and less than one foot in surgical masks. ONE similarly designed study published in 2020 showed that N95 and KF94 masks were even better at containing droplets and aerosols than surgical masks.

Kareem Ahmed, an associate professor of mechanical and aeronautical engineering at the University of Central Florida and a co-author of the new study, says “wearing anything is worth it.” “You’re limiting the transmission of aerosols and drops to the person next to you.”

How do I know if my mask is genuine?

Knockoff masks are everywhere. About 60% of KN95 respirators sold in the US are counterfeit, According to CDC.

Real N95 respirators meet the standards set by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). If the mask doesn’t have the NIOSH branding, has decorative add-ons like sequins, uses ear loops instead of headbands, or advertises it’s approved for children, it’s likely a fake. NIOSH said. (As an occupational safety agency, NIOSH standards do not apply to children.)

It’s even harder to tell if the KN95 or KF94 masks are real, as they are manufactured outside of the US and therefore subject to different regulatory structures. But there are some things to look for. Real KF94 made in Korea and KN95 manufactured to the latest standards must be stamped “GB2626-2019”, Wirecutter report. The KN95 marked with the number “GB” ending in 2006 has been manufactured to previous standards, but is fine to use as long as it has not passed the expiration date on the box.

If you have questions about a particular mask, you can check to see if it is on the NIOSH list for N95 approved. Group likes Project N95 There are also vet masks and engineer Aaron Collins tests a variety of specific masks and Share the results on Twitter.

Can I reuse my N95?

N95 masks are supposed to be worn once. If you must reapply the mask, you can leave it in a brown paper bag at room temperature, in a dry environment for a few days; by then, all the germs on it should have died, follow the instruction from experts at the University of California, Riverside. But if your mask gets dirty or loses its fit, you need to put it on, says Sobhanie.

Do I need to wear a mask outside with Omicron?

Crowded, poorly ventilated indoor environments remain areas of risk for COVID-19 transmission. It’s not impossible to have COVID-19 outside, but you’re much safer outdoors than inside. However, Sickbert-Bennett said there are certain circumstances when wearing a mask outside, such as in the stands at a sporting event or at a crowded concert. “We like to have common rules,” she said, “but it is always a continuum.”

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