By the University at Buffalo
The significant increase in local COVID-19 cases means that proper, consistent mask use is even more important as a protective measure for the University at Buffalo and Western New York communities, regardless of vaccination status.
“Omicron is extraordinarily infectious and our vaccines, although highly protective – especially if you have been boosted – are not perfect,” says Thomas Russo, M.D., professor and chief of the division of infectious diseases in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB. “Therefore, mask use is an additional critical layer of protection that will minimize the risk of infection, especially during this omicron wave.”
A high-quality, well-fitting mask that seals to the sides of your face, over your nose and under your chin can prevent viral particles from escaping, and reduce the risk of exposure to, or transmission, of COVID-19.
“All masks are not created equal,” Russo says. “The best protection is afforded by N95/KN95/KF94 masks that have a high-filtration efficiency, that fit well, and you are comfortable for wearing for a prolonged period of time. These masks are particularly important for preventing aerosol spread.”
Of course, the best mask is the one you wear consistently and properly. Here are some things to consider, according to Russo, when selecting the best mask for you.
The Best Protection in Masks: N95, KF94 and KN95
N95, KF94 and KN95 masks are designed to fit snugly around a person’s face, and have typically been used in medical and other high-risk settings. These masks are reusable, per manufacturer’s instructions, until they become damaged or wet.
'Double Mask' When Wearing a Cloth Mask
Russo adds that wearing a multilayer cloth mask over a paper or medical mask is recommended as a good and more widely available alternative to masks like the N95, KN95 or KF94. This approach, known as “double masking,” increases the mask’s filtration capability and improves the seal on the face. Wearing a disposable mask alone will leave gaps around the sides of the face where SARS-CoV-2 can enter. People are urged not to use cloth masks that have exhalation valves or vents that allow virus particles to escape.
Disposable Masks Best Worn Using Two Layers
If wearing a disposable mask, wearing two of them will add an extra level of protection. It’s best to find masks with a nose wire, to help create a seal over your mouth and nose. Do not wear disposable masks if they are wet, dirty or that has gaps around your face and nose.
“Test which of these masks works best for you,” Russo says. “If these high-filtration efficiency masks don’t work for you for whatever reason, then wearing a surgical/medical mask with a high-quality cloth mask over the top is an alternative; the cloth mask will both increase filtration efficiency and help seal gaps common with surgical/medical masks.
“It is time for everyone to up their mask game for both your own protection, as well as the UB and Western New York communities at large.”