Health

How long can you wear KN95 and N95 masks for?

As the United States struggles to slow the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, reports have emerged that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is considering recommending that those who can wear a mask wear a higher standard in public places — specifically the KN95 and N95 masks that have been in demand. It has risen over the past two years.

the Washington Post “The agency is currently actively looking to update its recommendations for KN95 and N95 in light of Omicron,” an unnamed official quotes as saying, “We know these masks provide better filtration.”

The news comes as rising case numbers have put pressure on the CDC and Biden to adjust their Covid-19 strategy on a number of fronts, from home testing provision to isolation requirements to vaccine mandates. But the policy of masking remains particularly alive, and the question of which masks provide the best protection has been a factor since the pandemic broke out in earnest.

So why is the CDC under pressure to recommend these masks in particular? Why are they better than the cloth masks that the vast majority of people rely on — and given that they are relatively expensive and can sometimes be difficult for Americans to obtain, how can they be reused?

Why are they better?

The N95 and KN95 masks work by fitting tightly to the face and filtering the air using multiple layers of materials designed to trap extremely small particles, something that common clothing or disposable masks can’t do nearly as reliably.

In the United States, N95 respirator masks are the recommended high-level face coverings for health care workers. According to the CDC, regulator-approved N95s filter up to 95 percent of airborne particles if properly fitted to the face to form an airtight seal. It can feel harder to breathe than a regular mask, and it’s expensive.

In the meantime, KN95s are cheaper and more widely available. Before the pandemic, it was not approved for medical use in the United States, but it was licensed as a replacement for N95s when necessary. However, they are approved by various international standards, although the CDC warns that many of these standards do not have specific quality requirements — most importantly, as many as 60 percent of those available in the United States fakes.

How do you reuse it?

Under normal circumstances, as directed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), N95 masks should ideally not be reused. However, due to problems with the supply of masks and other personal protective equipment that marked the first year of the pandemic, the agency issued guidelines for their reuse as health care workers cannot count on a steady supply of new, high-quality disposable masks.

Research published in 2020 suggested that the best ways to reuse N95s included rotating them several times over several days, heating them at 70 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour, and even steam cleaning or boiling them. However, it is not recommended to wash it with soapy water or alcohol.

However, this refers to the masks that health care workers use in high-risk settings. For the purposes of people who use masks in daily life who are able to follow other distance precautions, experts have suggested a simpler method that works for both N95s and KN95s: leave the used mask in a dry brown paper bag for a day or two, essentially drying the mask while preventing any virus that remains on it from injuring anyone nearby.

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