It’s easier for the virus to move through surgical or cloth masks, experts say, while respirators filter tiny aerosols.

On Sunday, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s director of public health, quietly came to the “Jabapalooza” vaccine clinic in her Ottawa neighborhood to get your third dose. Notably, he wore a white breathing mask in the indoor public space, something he emphasized the next day when she exchanged his old Twitter profile photo of him wearing a surgical mask for one taken at that community-run clinic. She tweeted: “If you’re like me, there’s so much to do in a day that you haven’t updated your profile picture at some point, but in real life you have improved your mask game and practice. #COVIDWise 24/7 because #omicron. ”

Tam is one of a growing number of healthcare professionals using his profile photos on social media to send a message that quality N95 respirator masks have become an essential part of personal protection against the COVID-19 for everyone, not just those who work in high-risk places like hospitals Even the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are considering updating their own mask guide to advise the public to use quality N95 masks, the Washington Post reports.

The result: People need to improve their mask game – Surgical and cloth masks just aren’t ready for battle with an aerial nemesis like Omicron.

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The problem with cloth and surgical masks is that the filtration and fit are not as good as the N95 equivalents. “It’s easier for the aerosol to move,” says Marina Freire-Gormaly, an aerosol transmission expert in the department of mechanical engineering at the University of York. “And there is a problem in getting a seal around the mask.” of the federal government online comparison Between Respirators and Surgical Masks he says that while surgical masks are a barrier against splashes, droplets and saliva, they are not designed to seal tightly against the face and do not effectively filter small particles from the air.

In contrast, when using a type N95 respirator, the user breathes through the fabric of the mask, without air escaping through spaces around the edges, such as near the nose or under the chin. Tight fitting respirators, with their synthetic material layers, are tested to ensure that they filter aerosols to a specific standard (N95s filter 95 percent aerosol drops 0.3 microns in diameter, explains the Canadian Center for Occupational Safety and Health).

Type N95 respirators include N95 (United States), KN95 (China), KF94 (South Korea), FFP2 or FFP3 (Europe), and PFE95 (Canada). People should not wear respirators that include valves, which allow users to exhale potentially infectious aerosols, Freire-Gormaly explains.

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Freire-Gormaly and others suggest trying a few styles to find one that suits your face. “They may feel uncomfortable at first, but they will become normal,” she says. If the mask of your choice has ear hooks instead of straps (which go around the head and tend to offer a tighter fit), consider purchasing an “ear protector” that attaches to the mask hooks and go behind the head, taking the pressure off the ears. (I bought my ear protector at a dollar store for $ 1.50 and have worn my KN95 for up to five hours straight with no discomfort.)

Although type N95 masks cost more than surgical masks, experts say they can be worn for up to around 40 hours, which is much more than what is stated on the packaging, as long as they are kept in good condition. Since any virus on the surface of a mask will not survive after three days, Dr. Peter Tsai, who invented the spun material in N95 masks, came up with a simple system about which he wrote in The Journal of Emergency Medicine– Wear three or four masks in rotation for the same number of days, each hanging in a dry area until needed again.

Freire-Gormaly has been wearing a KN95 mask in closed public places since the start of the pandemic 22 months ago. “Science was showing that aerosols were the way COVID spread,” she says. The masks offer “extra peace of mind,” he says, and mean you can go to public spaces like grocery stores and not “feel extra anxiety when someone sneezes or coughs.”

The Freire-Gormaly research team is currently examining how particulates and aerosols move around the room, depending on how people breathe and cough, and how the HVAC system is set up. Using simulations involving an infected “index patient,” they measure the risks of exposure to others. The experiments mimic life without masks, because “eventually, we will remove the masks,” she says. And that means needing to know how to best design spaces that minimize the risk of transmission. Until then, the respirators remain on.

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