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Why N95, KN95 masks are much more effective than cloth versions

Along with vaccines and testing, masks remain one of the CDC’s three main tools to fight the coronavirus. 

The key with the N95 mask is proper fit: There should be no air gaps or voids around the nose, cheeks or chin. With the proper fit, masks approved by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health can filter up to 95% of particles in the air.
The key with the N95 mask is proper fit: There should be no air gaps or voids around the nose, cheeks or chin. With the proper fit, masks approved by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health can filter up to 95% of particles in the air.
stock.adobe.com

The Omicron variant of the coronavirus spreads much more easily, and now that it is the dominant strain, health experts are warning against weaing cloth masks and recommending N95, KN95 and KF94 masks instead, which produce an electrostatic charge and are far more effective.

WHY SKIP CLOTH?

Cloth masks provide the least amount of protection against virus transmission but are better than no mask at all, experts say.
Cloth masks provide the least amount of protection against virus transmission but are better than no mask at all, experts say.
stock.adobe.com

Homemade masks are less effective because most have spaces known as voids near your nose and cheeks where tiny droplets can be inhaled.

And the pores in the fabric alone generally aren’t small enough to trap tiny, aerosolized droplets.

A research paper published in the journal PeerJ looked at the surface of 20 different types of cloth masks and found that pore sizes ranged from 80 to 500 micrometers. But the coronavirus is only about 0.12 micrometers.

WHY N95 ARE SO EFFECTIVE

Respirators — including N95 masks — are designed to achieve a close facial fit and efficient filtration of airborne particles.

They have a denser network of fibers than surgical or cloth masks. N95s are made of a polypropylene material that goes through a process in which it’s melted and extruded through small-diameter holes into hundreds of tiny fibers that are tangled together.

The fibers are then charged by passing them through a device that produces static electricity. The charge makes them 10 times better at capturing particles.

But the key with the N95 is proper fit: There should be no air gaps or voids around the nose, cheeks or chin.

With the proper fit, masks approved by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health can filter up to 95% of particles in the air. They also do a great job of filtering your own exhalations to protect others.

Respirators, like the N95 mask, are designed to achieve a close facial fit and efficient filtration of airborne particles. They have a denser network of fibers than surgical or cloth masks.
Respirators, like the N95 mask, are designed to achieve a close facial fit and efficient filtration of airborne particles. They have a denser network of fibers than surgical or cloth masks.
stock.adobe.com

N95 masks aren’t designed for people with facial hair. But N95 respirators still offer the best respiratory protection even for bearded men, a study found, though exactly how much protection it might offer them can vary.

Protection with KF94 and KN95 was brought down considerably by longer beards, but they, too, still proved to be better options than cotton face masks.

Filter mechanisms aid in collection of both larger and smaller particles.

Surgical masks and N95-style respirators are made from flat, nonwoven mats of fine fibers. Diameter and thickness of the fibers and their porosity — the ratio of open space to fibers — play a role in how well a filter collects particles via four mechanisms: inertial impaction, interception, diffusion and electrostatic attraction.

Health experts now warn against common cloth masks and recommend masks that produce an electrostatic charge, like N95 and KN95 (pictured) styles.
Health experts now warn against common cloth masks and recommend masks that produce an electrostatic charge, like N95 and KN95 (pictured) styles.
stock.adobe.com

N95, KF94, KN95’S DIFFERENCE

The main difference boils down to which country or organization certified the standard of quality for the masks.

N95 masks are certified by the U.S. government’s National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.

KN95s are manufactured in China and meet standards set by China.

KF94 masks are manufactured in Korea to meet that country’s requirements.

REUSING AN N95 MASK

Leave a used mask at room temperature at least for three to four days. By then, any viruses should be dead, experts say.

The best practice is to isolate the mask in a breathable location such as a paper bag — do not use a plastic bag. Close the bag, and allow it to sit at room temperature for at least three to four days.

Wash your hands after handling the used masks and bags. Assign one bag for each day of the week. By the time you get back to Monday, it will have been seven days since you wore last Monday’s mask, and it should be safe to reuse.

HANDLING CLOTH MASKS

If you wear a cloth mask, be sure to wash it. Most fabric masks can go into the laundry with your clothes and should be washed using detergent and hot water “when it gets dirty or at least daily” according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and revention. Tossing them into the dryer on hot is also recommended.

Throw out any frayed or loose-fitting cloth masks. Avoid cloth masks made from dry clean-only fabric or fabrics such as vinyl, which make it difficult to breathe.

WHEN NOT TO REUSE A MASK

According to the CDC, any N95 or KN95 mask that has blood, nasal secretions or other bodily fluids on it should be discarded and not reused.

The same goes for any mask with broken straps or broken nose pieces.

Never use cleaning products such as Lysol, alcohol or bleach to clean an N95 or KN95 mask.

And liquids — including soap and water — can damage the mesh of electrically charged fibers designed to catch particles and droplets.

Surgical masks are constructed from flat, nonwoven mats of fine fibers. Diameter and thickness of the fibers, as well as porosity (the ratio of open space to fibers) play a role in how well a filter collects particles.
Surgical masks are constructed from flat, nonwoven mats of fine fibers. Diameter and thickness of the fibers, as well as porosity (the ratio of open space to fibers) play a role in how well a filter collects particles.
stock.adobe.com

N95S FOR KIDS

While the best option remains the N95 mask, it might not be possible to find the one that fits a child. So St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital recommends that kids wear duck-bill N95 masks because cloth masks “do not provide the same level of protection and should not be used.” The white duck-bill N95 mask comes in two sizes, small and regular, and is shaped outwardly like a duck’s mouth. The design was created to offer better breathability.

If this mask is unavailable, it’s best to opt for a kid-sized surgical mask. According to the CDC, be sure the child’s mask fits snugly over the nose and mouth and under the chin and that there are no gaps around the sides.

It’s important to make sure the mask is the right size to cover the nose, mouth and chin and fits snugly but comfortably. Show kids how to wear the mask properly, and teach them not to touch the front of the mask and not to pull it under the chin or into their mouth.

They should store the mask in a bag or container, and not share it with others.

HOW ELSE TO PROTECT AGAINST OMICRON?

Get a booster shot if you haven’t already to give your body the best chance at defense against the virus.

It’s also still important to maintain social distancing. Avoid poorly ventilated spaces. Where possible,open doors and windows. And wash your hands regularly with soap and water, or use hand sanitizer.

Contributing: Shawn Sullivan, Javier Zarracina

Read more at usatoday.com