Published January 11, 2022
The significant increase in local COVID-19 cases means that proper, consistent mask use is even more important as a protective measure for the UB 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, SUNY Distinguished 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 the face, over the nose and under the 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 notes. “The best protection is afforded by N95/KN95/KF94 masks that have a high-filtration efficiency, that fit well and you are comfortable 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 Russo suggests to consider when selecting the best mask for you.
N95, KF94 and KN95 masks are designed to fit snugly around the 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.
Russo explains 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, which allow virus particles to escape.
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 the mouth and nose. Do not wear disposable masks if they are wet, dirty or gap around the face and nose.
“Test which of these masks works best for you,” Russo advises. “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.”