With the omicron variant rapidly spreading, many previous protective measures are changing. For the past two years, many people have used washable and reusable cloth masks. But since omicron is significantly more infectious than previous variants, researchers are now recommending that people upgrade their masks.
Here are a few options that could better effectively protect you — and those around you — from the omicron variant.
Why are cloth masks not enough protection for omicron?
Cloth masks do not fit tightly, making it easier to get infected. Additionally, the use of fabric may not provide enough filtration to protect people from exposure to omicron.
What masks should I use instead?
When worn properly, the N95 mask stops 95% of external particles from entering your nose and mouth, according to experts at the Cleveland Clinic. This mask offers lots of filtration, creating a tight seal around your nose.
The Food and Drug Administration approved the use of KN95 and KF94 masks. While they are very effective, the masks are regulated by countries outside the U.S. — making it sometimes hard to find reliable places to buy them.
There are many counterfeit or low quality versions of KN95 masks being sold. Between 2020 and 2021, about 60% of KN95 masks evaluated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health didn’t meet the requirements to be NIOSH-approved. And recently in Massachusetts, the state sent some schools “non-medical” KN95 masks — which were found to be between 25% and 45% effective.
Where can I buy high quality masks?
Before buying masks, you should make sure they are real, high quality masks. Many of the N95, KN95 and KF94 masks that are being widely sold on websites like Amazon are actually fake. Here are some real masks to consider buying.
These KN95 masks have two different designs — one has ear loops to be worn around the ears and the other has headband straps to be worn over the head.
Lastly, if you’re looking for a KF94 mask, you can check the product for the correct markings in this graphic released by the Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety. As the masks are regulated by and manufactured in South Korea, make sure it says so on the packaging.
What if I can’t get access to high quality masks?
Again, with the costliness of masks and so many fake ones on the market, high quality masks aren’t always accessible. For a pack of 50 masks, people might be paying as much as 50 dollars.
Although it may not be as effective, using a surgical mask followed by a cloth mask is a definite upgrade that can decrease your chances of catching the virus.