Officials: Research key to finding the right mask for COVID protection
ALPENA — While some types of face masks and respirators offer more protection than others, mask wearing continues to be recommended for protection against COVID-19 and wearing any mask is better than no mask, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With the emergence of the omicron variant of coronavirus, the CDC has changed its guidance on masks several times as it learned more about the disease and how it is transmitted.
The CDC recommends people wear the most protective mask that fits well and is one they can wear consistently. Knowing which mask is which and knowing each of their strengths and limitations is key to protecting yourself and loved ones and limiting the spread of COVID-19, local officials say.
Nick Modrzynski, emergency preparedness coordinator for District Health Department No. 4, said the health department is distributing KN95 masks at clinics. He said the health department continues to encourage people to wear masks and to know more about the ones they choose to use.
The Biden administration announced Wednesday it will begin making 400 million N95 masks available for free to U.S. residents at thousands of pharmacies and other locations starting next week.
“Do your research and find out what they do and don’t do,” Modrzynski said. “Always make sure they fit snugly and have a good seal.”
The N95 masks are designed to achieve a close facial fit and efficient filtration of airborne particles. A proper, often tight fit with an N95 is important, officials say, and there should no gaps or voids around the nose, cheeks or chin.
With the proper fit, masks approved by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health can filter up to 95% of particles in the air.
The tight fitting masks may not be as comfortable as surgical or cloth masks and aren’t as effective when worn by those with facial hair.
The CDC says these masks can be reused, but not more than five times, and recommends leaving a used mask at room temperature for at least for three or four days to kill the viruses on the mask before reuse.
Masks with broken straps or broken nose pieces as well as those with blood or other bodily fluids on them should be discarded, according to the CDC.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration defines a surgical mask as a loose-fitting, disposable device that creates a barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer and potential contaminants such as germs.
The CDC recommends not reusing surgical masks that get wet or dirty or gaps around the nose or sides of the face. Because surgical masks tend to be more of a loose fit on a wearer’s face, masks with a nose wire, those made of multiple layers of non-woven material and properly-fitting masks are recommended.
CLOTH MASKS AND NECK GAITERS
Modrzynski said there is a big difference in the protection a cloth mask and even a surgical mask offer compared to a N95 or KN95. Cloth masks are popular because they often feature graphics or print on them.
“With omicron, it can pass through cloth masks and surgical masks way easier,” he said.
The local health department and CDC recommend masks, but say the best way to stay safe and avoid serious illness is to get vaccinated and receive the booster shot when eligible.
The CDC says the most effective cloth masks are made of multiple layers of tightly woven fabric like cotton. A mask with layers will stop more droplets from getting through a mask or escaping from it.
The effectiveness of cloth and medical masks can be improved by ensuring that the masks are well fitted to the contours of your face to prevent leakage of air around the masks’ edges, according to the CDC.