Health experts suggest increasing protection against the highly contagious Omicron variant with stronger masks such as N95s or KN95s. It’s especially important now with health care systems under stress, and with people in higher-risk situations, such as crowded, indoor environments for extended periods, says Linsey Marr, who studies viruses at Virginia Tech.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated their guidelines to recommend the types of masks used by health professionals, but also noted the importance of choosing a mask that fits well and that you will wear consistently. .
“Our main message remains that any mask is better than no mask,” CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said in a statement.
Previously, the CDC had said N95 masks should be reserved for health professionals due to a shortage of supplies. There is a special category of “surgical N95” masks that are generally not available for sale to the public and which the CDC says should be reserved for healthcare facilities.
N95s have a tighter fit on your face than cloth masks and are made with a special material designed to block 95% of harmful particles. The fibers are pressed together more closely than in cloth masks and have an electrostatic charge that attracts molecules to stick to the mask instead of passing through it.
KN95s and KF94s offer a similar level of protection. A full list of masks that meet an international quality standard is available on the CDC website.
But be careful when buying. The counterfeit market is huge, and according to the CDC, about 60% of KN95s in the US are fake and fall short of quality standards.
It’s hard to tell just by looking at whether a mask is counterfeit, so experts recommend buying directly from reputable sellers. Project N95 is also a well-known retailer of valid brands, and Marr says she buys masks through industry suppliers such as Grainger or McMaster-Carr.
If you have a hard time wearing certain N95s for long periods of time, experts recommend exploring the different shapes and styles available to see what works best for you.
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