“Cloth masks are little more than face jewelry. There is no place for them in the face of Omicron,” says medical analyst Dr. CNN’s Leana Wen, an emergency physician and visiting professor of health policy and management at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, recently told the CNN Newsroom.
Here’s what you need to know about masks like N95, where to get them, and how to use them safely.
Why are experts now recommending N95s?
Cloth masks — recommended earlier in the pandemic — can filter large droplets, while more effective masks like N95 can filter both large droplets and smaller aerosols or particles potentially laden with airborne viruses when infected people are present, he said bromage.
Why the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has infected so many people so quickly is not known at this time, but emphasizes the importance of wearing quality masks, Bromage said.
“If less virus is needed, or if an infected person is shedding more virus, then the role of a mask is that if we can reduce the amount that you actually breathe in, then if we can reduce the amount that you actually breathe in, then the role of a mask is if we can reduce the amount of time that you actually breathe in,” he added added.
What is the difference between N95s and KN95s?
“When they’re made to the standard and certified by the appropriate bodies in their country like NIOSH here, they’re basically all doing the same thing,” Bromage said. They “can meet the standards, but they’re not certified to do so. And there are others who clearly don’t.”
How can I recognize a fake N95, KN95 or KF94?
“If you’re looking for a KN95 mask, we recommend making sure the (Chinese government) standard is on the side of the mask, similar to the NIOSH standards for US N95,” Carothers said.
Those Chinese government standards for KN95 should be GB 2626-2019 or GB 2626-2006, which was the pre-GB 2626-2019 standard, Carothers advised.
Can children wear N95, KN95 or KF94?
The N95 are medical masks made for healthcare workers so of course there are no N95 masks designed or made for children as only adults would work in healthcare.
“If you see an N95 being marketed for kids, that should raise a red flag,” Marr said. “There will be KN95 and KF94 that will be developed and marketed for children. With these, it’s the same problem we discussed for adults, which is to make sure you’re getting them from a trusted, reputable source.
“…Certainly for children, on average, a KN95 or KF94 offers better protection than a surgical mask or a cloth mask,” Marr added.
Where can I get N95s, KN95s or KF94s?
Specially marked “surgical” N95s “should be reserved for use by medical personnel,” the CDC says, but other N95s can be found at some hardware stores, retailers, and drugstores.
Amazon has 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 (N95) manufacturer’s direct store, like their official store,” Collins said.
Is N95 safe to reuse?
In medical facilities, health workers frequently change masks to avoid cross-contamination of the patient’s room with equipment worn in another room with an infectious person, Bromage explained. “If you take a single-use medical thing and then make it available to the public, we’re not worried about you cross-contaminating different environments. … It’s really about giving you protection.”
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 — the material and filtering ability of an N95 “won’t degrade unless you physically rub it or poke holes in it,” Marr said added that she will be wearing 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 out particles.”
However, there are things to keep in mind to safely reuse an N95: avoid touching the front outer part of the mask when putting it on; Instead, handle it by the edges or straps.
If the mask is damp, visibly dirty, bent, wrinkled, difficult to breathe, or otherwise damaged — including from makeup — you should replace it to avoid wearing a less effective mask, Marr and Bromage said.
Can I somehow clean N95s?
You shouldn’t wash an N95 because water would dissipate the mask’s special static charge, which helps filter out viruses so well, Marr said.
What you can do is put the mask aside, since particles die off in a matter of hours, she added, and that happens even faster if you put it in sunlight.
But the fact that warmer temperatures can have a “sanitizing” effect on N95 doesn’t mean you should toss the masks in an oven or microwave, Bromage said. That could ruin the mask. “I used to tape mine to my car’s dashboard in the summer and that was more than enough.”
CNN’s Katherine Dillinger and John Bonifield contributed to this story.