As COVID-19 cases hit record highs as a result of the highly contagious Omicron variant, people are re-evaluating what masks they should be wearing.
Though the CDC didn’t update its guidance to the general public to advise wearing only KN95 or N95 masks, the agency did offer more details on Friday on which types of masks provide the best protection, and said shortages of higher-quality masks are no longer a concern. There are concerns for those who want to upgrade their masks.
” All masks aren’t created equal,” Anthony Santella (DrPH), director of Doctor of Health Sciences at the University of New Haven, Connecticut told MedPage today .
Disposable surgical Masks are very affordable and can be used in hospitals or countries where masks have been worn during illness seasons. It is the best [mask]? No. It works. Santella agreed, but it depends on where you are. “
KN95s are more fitted than surgical masks, and are not extremely uncomfortable for most people, he noted. He said that in the case of airborne virus, the more fitted the better, especially in densely populated areas. However, KN95s are generally not being handed out for free, as is sometimes the case with surgical masks.
N95 masks — which are approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) — are not comfortable to wear for a long time, and really should be reserved for those in high-intensity settings with a lot of virus exposure, Santella said.
“What we’re telling our community [is to wear] a surgical mask with a cloth mask on top of it or a KN95,” he added.
When it comes to buying higher-quality masks there are often many options or a temptation to grab what’s available. People want to make sure they are getting true protection by spending more money on higher-quality masks.
The CDC has warned that some 60% of KN95s in the U.S. are fake. The CDC states on its website that common warning signs are documents being altered to make models conform to a certain standard, fake certification marks or fake manufacturer names, logos and model numbers.
The CDC stated that NIOSH is performing modified filtration efficiency assessments on respirators that are not certified by NIOSH and that test results can also be checked for products that were evaluated. It also advises not purchasing any model that achieved results of less than 95% efficiency. Evaluation of additional factors is needed before purchasing models from another country that achieved results greater than or equal to 95% efficiency.
The CDC didn’t respond to a request to comment on how to best evaluate masks for purchase in terms of their ability filter large and small particles.
Santella noted that there are common-sense measures that consumers can take in evaluating KN95s. Just like for counterfeit designer clothes and handbags, watch out for misspelled names, he said. If a package appears to have been altered, be aware. Also, be cautious if it is hard to identify where the product came from.
However, even a KN95 derived from a questionable source may be better than none at all, he conceded. “We don’t live in an ideal world at the moment. “
Masks for Healthcare