“A couple of things have changed. So, early on in the pandemic, any type of face-covering was effective,” said Dr. Peggy Duggan, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for Tampa General Hospital.
That’s not the case anymore, especially with the emergence of the highly contagious COVID-19 omicron variant.
“The most effective would be a true N95 mask,” said Duggan.
Health officials say the N95 masks are also the most difficult to breathe in, meaning if you have chronic respiratory or cardiac issues you may want to talk to your doctor before using one.
Experts also worry people won’t use the N95 masks properly because they can be uncomfortable. So there are other options, although less effective.
“I am a real big proponent of the KN95 masks that you can get on Amazon. They basically are really effective at blocking most of the particles, the vast majority of particles that the virus is carried on,” said Dr. Thomas Unnasch, Distinguished Professor at the University of South Florida.
“The KN95s are really the N95s of China. They’re made in China but they’re a little more comfortable,” said Duggan.
The KN95 masks have ear loops instead of the headband that comes with the N95.
Cloth masks offer the least protection and surgical masks are still a good option, although less protective than the N95 or KN95.
“A three-ply surgical mask, those are certainly better than the cloth masks,” said Dr. Paul Nanda, Chief Medical Officer for Tampa General Hospital Urgent Care.
The CDC says people can wear their N95 masks up to five times but experts say it depends on how long you wear it and where you’re at.
“Much of it has to do with exposures and if you’re with people and other people who have omicron…If you were in a big crowd of people and there’s lots of activity and people are laughing or you know eating or drinking,” said Duggan.
Experts say using the same mask to run to the grocery store is different from wearing it all day at work.
The amount of time it’s worn is more important than how frequently it’s worn.
With every breath, particles accumulate on the N95 mask so if you notice it’s more difficult to breathe, it’s time for a new one.
If the elastic starts to get worn out, if it doesn’t fit as snug, or if the mask gets dirty or wet, throw it away.
Experts warn you should be careful where you buy N95 and KN95 masks because scammers are selling knocks.
- Be sure to get them from trustworthy retailers that work with mask manufacturers like Home Depot or CVS.
- You can also buy them directly from the mask manufacturer websites like 3M or Honeywell.
- If you want to purchase them from a site like Amazon, be sure it’s being sold from a verified manufacturer.
The Biden Administration is providing free N95 masks.
You can find them at some local retailers are pharmacies like Walgreens, Publix, CVS, Costco, and Winn-Dixie.