Masking against Omicron: the last layer of defense

WATERLOO REGION – Has its ‘baggy blues’, its three panel cloths, its N95 and KN95 – COVID-19 face mask guidance has come a long way since the start of the pandemic and with the expansion of the Omicron variant Like a wildfire, the type of mask you choose is still an important layer of protection.

“Masking is one of the most important things we can do to prevent transmission,” says Craig Janes, director of the School of Public Health at the University of Waterloo. While wearing any mask is better than none, some masks are clearly better than others.

Types of masks

“The gold standards are respirators, the N95s. They offer the best protection, but they are also expensive and can be difficult to find, ”said Janes.

They are the best for several reasons, he said. They filter out 95 percent of particles above a certain size and tend to fit better than blue surgical masks, sometimes referred to as “baggy blue.”

KN95 respirators are considered equivalent to N95s if the manufacturer can provide evidence that the product meets the appropriate standards. When purchasing this type of respirator, especially when shopping online, consumers should ensure that the products are marked with an approval number recognized by Health Canada.

On its website, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has identified more than a dozen counterfeit respirators labeled N95 or KN95 that have not been approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Health Canada has created a guidance document outlining what to look for to avoid purchasing counterfeit masks or respirators. Medical masks must have ASTM F2100 or EN 14683 on the box label. NIOSH N95 respirators must have an approval number stamped on the device, often represented as TC-84A – #### n.

Health Canada also cautions against the use of respirators with exhalation valves, as they allow the escape of infectious respiratory particles.

Disposable blue medical masks provide effective protection when the proper fit is achieved, Janes said, but depending on the size and characteristics of someone’s face, adjustments may be necessary.

Since COVID-19 spreads through airborne droplets or aerosols, all masks must be worn in such a way that air leaks through the mask, not around the mask. For people with bushy beards, achieving a proper fit with a standard medical mask can be nearly impossible.

Cloth masks don’t tend to filter as well as medical masks, but they do have the advantage of being reusable after washing, Janes said. To be effective, they must fit well, be multi-layered, and be made from tightly woven fabrics, such as cotton.

Of course, it doesn’t matter what mask you have if you wear it under your nose. “The nasal passages are a major source of infection and transmission,” Janes said.

Where to find quality masks

The increased demand for N95 respirators has made them harder to find, but if you’re looking, try looking at hardware stores in the region.

N95 masks generally sell for around $ 5 each, or less if bought in bulk.

These masks are typically disposable after a single use, but Health Canada advises that they can be reused until visibly dirty, wet, or damaged.

Chris Seto is a reporter for The Record in the Waterloo region. Contact him by email: [email protected]

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