As the pandemic pans into 2022, the Omicron variant, which is highly infectious strain, is infecting many today. Omicron virus is stated to be highly contagious, much more than the previously dominant Delta variant. Masking practices have evolved since the beginning of the pandemic, but the confusion still persists about which mask to wear and in what circumstances. In addition to taking booster shots and staying indoors as much as possible, people need to understand which mask works best in protecting them against the virus. Let's have a look at the types of masks you should consider:
1. N95, KN95, or KF94: These are made using global standard material; is used accurately ensuring proper fit, these high-quality and high filtration rate masks filter out tiny particles and offer 95% protection.
2. Surgical mask: If made using good three-ply filtering materials, surgical masks can give protection against large particles and some tiny particles. But these masks do not seal the face properly and leave gaps between the edges. The only way to improve the fit of a surgical mask is ‘double-masking’. This mask, when worn in pairs, is ideal for everyone, especially those with COPD, Asthma, or any other breathing issues who can't wear an N95 mask.
3. Cloth mask: This mask is only effective when worn together with a surgical mask. A cloth mask reduces emissions of larger droplets to some extent from an infected person’s nose and mouth, but offers little protection for the uninfected wearer as the material does not significantly filter out small particles.
Reuse and discard: Wash your hands and gently remove the N95 mask, place the mask in a sealed plastic, zip-lock bag or a breathable container such as a paper bag between uses. Secure the bag tightly re-use the mask only on day seven; each mask must be placed in a separate sealed bag and can be re-used on day seven, for up to four-five times. For single use N95, place the mask into a sealed bag and place the bag into a garbage can or biomedical waste disposal unit. Surgical masks should be wrapped in a tissue paper or polythene bag and immediately discarded in bins with lids, whereas cloth masks should be washed separately, properly, frequently and left to hang and air dry. Never put on a new mask until you have properly washed your hands. After disposing your single-use and re-usable masks, wash your hands thoroughly.
Who are these masks for: Once reserved only for the healthcare staff, the N95 mask is now important and advisable for everyone as an efficient filtration device of airborne particles, giving the highest protection against the new Omicron variant. An N95 prevents 95% of particles in the air around you from entering your nose and mouth. Frontline workers like bank employees, post office workers, rail and bus ticketing agents, civic staff, and people who encounter thousands of people each day should only use N95 masks. The N95 mask does not get saturated even after a few days of normal (non-dusty) use, so can be reused two-three times.
Ensure that your mask covers your nose and mouth appropriately, leaving no open gaps. Appropriate masking is the first step towards safeguarding oneself and those around, so do it judiciously.
(Dr Sanjith Saseedharan is Consultant and Head Critical Care, SL Raheja Hospital, Mahim — a Fortis Associate, and Dr Sandeep Patil is Chief Intensivist, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan)