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As the world enters another year of the COVID-19 pandemic and variants continue to emerge, many people have found it difficult to locate certain necessities, such as at-home COVID tests.
But unlike at the beginning of the pandemic, masks are now pretty readily available. However, some face masks work better at preventing the spread of the virus than others, and many consumers are still rightfully concerned about buying legit masks instead of the fakes that are still flooding the market.
Experts advise that cloth masks alone are not enough to fight the omicron variant, especially in crowded areas. For instance, an N95 mask is designed to form a seal around the nose and mouth. These filters are very efficient at filtering large and small airborne particles.
While the CDC recommends that N95 masks labeled as “surgical” be prioritized for healthcare personnel, anyone can use basic disposable N95 respirators when supplies are available. Currently, they are readily available and can be pretty affordable.
Buying and Caring For N95 Masks
Project N95 is the National Critical Equipment Clearinghouse for personal protective equipment. The nonprofit organization serves as a resource for certified N95 and similar KN95 masks, which are rated to filter out 95% of tiny particles. And the group sells these potentially lifesaving masks starting at just over $1 each.
Check out the Project N95 online store and you’ll find masks of many shapes, designs and colors. Costs vary but many can be found in quantities that price out to about $1 each, with free shipping available on many options. The group also sells protective gowns, gloves, face shields and no-contact thermometers, among other COVID safeguards.
If you are on the fence about switching from reusable cloth masks to disposable N95 respirators, it’s important to consider that you can reuse N95 masks several times. For example, you can leave a used one to dry out for three or four days before using it again or sterilize it in the oven at 158 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes, according to the American College of Osteopathic Internists. You can even use an Instant Pot to clean used masks.
You can reuse N95 and KN95 masks up to five times, but you should discard one as soon as it becomes visibly damaged or soiled.
N95 Mask Dos and Don’ts
There are certain cases where an N95 respirator might not be the best choice. According to the CDC, you should choose a different type of mask in the following instances.
- If you have certain types of facial hair.
- If the mask has exhalation valves or vents.
- If you have breathing difficulties.
- If it is wet or dirty.
- If your job requires respiratory protection approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
It is also essential that you use a mask that fits your face correctly and follow all instructions provided with the respirator for the best protection.