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The ineffectiveness of cloth masks has been all over the news lately as health officials start warning Americans that these masks are not up to the task of preventing Omicron. In the early days of the pandemic, cloth masks were used as a stopgap solution so that high-quality masks like N95s could be reserved for frontline workers. But with the high transmissibility of Omicron and widespread availability of higher quality masks, experts are saying it’s time to upgrade your face mask if you haven’t already.
Why is it so important and which face mask you should you wear? We checked in with Dr. Nina Shapiro author of HYPE: A Doctor’s Guide to Medical Myths and Professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA to find out.
JohnnyJet.com: Why are cloth masks ineffective at this stage of the pandemic?
Dr. Nina Shapiro: While cloth masks provide some degree of protection from large particles, the fibers in cloth masks, whether single- or double-layered, are too widely spread, enabling the now extremely highly transmissible Omicron variant to sneak through. In addition, most cloth masks have gaps on the sides near one’s cheeks, enabling essentially anything to get through. Think of this period of time as a huge rainstorm. Would you weather this with a T-shirt or a heavy raincoat? Cloth masks are the t-shirts of this variant.
JohnnyJet.com: What kind of masks should people be wearing instead?
Dr. Nina Shapiro: People should wear masks with tighter knit fibers. Next in line after cloth is surgical masks, followed by KN95 and KF94, and most secure, N95.
JohnnyJet.com: Can you explain the difference between N95, KN95 and KN94 masks?
Dr. Nina Shapiro: N95 masks have the densest fibers, and filter out 95% of particles in the air, including the coronavirus. These masks are certified by NIOSH and provide the best protection. They are also form-fitting, and in healthcare settings, we undergo extensive ‘fit testing’ to make sure our N95 mask has the proper fit with no leaks on the side. A KN95 mask offers excellent protection as well and is a bit more comfortable to those not accustomed to wearing denser masks. It also has densely woven layers, blocking out small particles. Unlike N95s, they are typically not fit-tested. KF94 masks, typically manufactured in Korea, are a great option for those who are not comfortable with a KN95. They offer excellent protection, are form-fitting, and are a bit lighter-weight than KN95 masks.
So, which masks should you buy? We asked Dr. Shapiro for her recommendations on Amazon to help you sift through all the options and here are the ones she recommends:
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