“Cloth masks are little more than facial decorations. There’s no place for them in light of Omicron,” CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen, emergency physician and visiting professor of politics and in health management at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, CNN Newsroom recently reported.
Here’s what you need to know about masks like N95s, where to get them, and how to use them safely.
Why do experts now recommend N95s?
Cloth masks – encouraged earlier in the pandemic – can filter out large droplets, while more efficient masks, such as N95s, can filter out both large droplets and potentially virus-laden smaller aerosols or particles by airborne if infected people are present, Bromage said.
Why the Omicron variant of the coronavirus infected many people so quickly is currently unknown, but it highlights the importance of wearing high-quality masks, Bromage said.
“If it takes less virus, or if it’s an infected person who emits more virus, then the role of a mask is that if we can reduce the amount you actually breathe, you get more time” before d to be potentially infected, he added.
What is the difference between N95 and KN95?
“If they’re made to standard and certified by the appropriate boards in their country, like NIOSH here, they’re all basically doing the same thing,” Bromage said. They “may meet the standards, but they’re not certified to meet them. And there are others who clearly don’t.”
The level of potential escape of the virus is low, however, she added. N95s with exhalation valves work just as well as cloth or surgical masks to protect others. A valved N95 isn’t recommended above non-valved N95s, but if the former is the only mask you can wear, do so, Wen suggested.
How to spot a fake N95, KN95 or KF94?
“If you’re going to get a KN95 mask, what we recommend is to make sure it has the (Chinese government’s) standard written on the side of the mask, similar to NIOSH standards” for US N95s, said Carothers.
These Chinese government standards on KN95s should say GB 2626-2019 or GB 2626-2006, which was the standard before GB 2626-2019, Carothers advised.
Can children wear N95, KN95 or KF94?
N95s are medical masks designed for healthcare workers, so naturally there are no N95 masks designed or manufactured for children, as only adults would work in healthcare facilities.
“If you see an N95 as being marketed for kids, that should raise a red flag,” Marr said. “There will be KN95s and KF94s that are designed and marketed for children. With these, it’s the same issue that we discussed for adults, which is making sure you get them right. a reliable and reputable source.
“…Certainly, for children, a KN95 or KF94 will on average offer better protection than a surgical mask or a cloth mask,” Marr added.
Where can I get N95, KN95 or KF94?
Specially labeled “surgical” N95s “should be reserved for healthcare personnel,” the CDC says, but other N95s can be found at some home improvement stores, retailers, and pharmacies.
Amazon said it prohibits sellers from claiming their KN95 masks are “FDA approved” because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not approve KN95 masks.
“If you go to Amazon, just make sure you’re buying from the manufacturer’s direct store (N95), like their official store” on Amazon, Collins said.
Is reusing N95s safe?
In medical settings, healthcare workers change masks frequently to avoid cross-contamination of a patient’s room with equipment that has been worn in a different space with an infectious person, Bromage explained. “When you take a single-use, medical-grade item and then put it out to the general public, we’re not concerned about you contaminating different environments. … It’s really about protecting yourself.”
So, yes, you can reuse your N95 mask.
Even after wearing an N95 in a crowded indoor environment – like a subway or a grocery store – an N95’s material and filtration ability won’t “degrade unless you physically rub it or find it” , Marr said, adding that she wears her N95 masks for a week. “You would have to be in really polluted air…for several days before it lost its ability to filter particles.”
However, there are things to keep in mind to reuse an N95 safely: When putting it on, avoid touching the front outer part of the mask; instead, hold it by its edges or straps.
If the mask becomes damp, visibly dirty, bent, creased, difficult to breathe, or otherwise damaged — including by makeup — you should replace it to avoid wearing a less effective mask, Marr and Bromage said.
Can I somehow clean the N95s?
You shouldn’t wash an N95 because the water will dissipate the mask’s special static charge that helps it filter out viruses so well, Marr said.
What you can do is put the mask aside, because the particles will die within hours, she added, and it will happen even faster if you place it in the sun.
But just because warmer temperatures can have a “disinfecting” effect on N95s doesn’t mean you should throw the masks in an oven or microwave, Bromage said. It could ruin the mask. “I used to stick mine on my car dashboard in the summer, and that was more than enough.”
This story has been updated with additional information on N95s with exhalation valves.
CNN’s Katherine Dillinger and John Bonifield contributed to this story.