RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — With the highly contagious omicron COVID-19 variant surging, many health officials are urging people to wear masks that are more protective.
The CDC may update its guidance to recommend N95 or KN95 masks, according to the Washington Post.
A spokesperson for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, says the agency is sending 2 million N95 masks to local health departments and departments of social services across the state.
Experts say well-fitting N95 and KN95 masks offer the strongest protection when it comes to face coverings.
“They contain many layers,” explained Dr. Pia MacDonald, an epidemiologist with RTI International. “They protect the wearer from 95 percent of the particles in the air. The other thing with those masks is the fibers are electrostatically charged and that increases their ability to trap particles 10 times over other masks.”
Experts stress, the masks must fit well.
Dr. Bryan Ormond and his students at North Carolina State University have tested dozens of different masks.
“When you go to put a surgical or medical mask on your face, it’s not intended to fit your face, so you have very large holes and gaps,” Ormond explained. “When you go to the KN95 and N95 they are intended to fit on someone’s face so that increases the likelihood that you’re getting maximum protection.”
If you can feel air getting out of your mask, Ormond says you should try another kind.
“It may be that you need to try a couple different versions,” he noted. “Maybe an N95 doesn’t fit your face but a KN95 might.”
While N95s and KN95s are disposable, MacDonald says you don’t necessarily have to throw them away after each use.
“It could work to have five different masks. Use one mask for Mondays, another mask for Tuesdays and on,” she said.
While no mask is perfect, Ormond says, “It’s all about cutting back so much as possible in terms of what you could be exposed to.”