Due to a surge in the cases of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, public health entities are strongly recommending that people wear masks. Locally, we are seeing the reinstatement of a mask mandate. This public health recommendation has been music to my ears.
The Omicron variant has the unfortunate characteristic of being extremely infectious. Since it is well known that all forms of COVID-19 are spread through the air via respiratory droplets and particles released through speaking, talking, singing or coughing, employing an effective mask is a must.
The operative phrase here is “effective mask wearing.” This is a serious issue in which far too many people have given only lip service.
How one wears a mask is extremely important. No mask is effective when it is worn under the nose on top of the lip. A mask must be worn over the nose with a metal nose clip that follows the contour of one’s face and eliminates any gaps that the virus could penetrate and infect. A mask should also have ear loops or ties to allow for proper fitting and adjustments. Comfort is another must. A mask just on top of the nose is not effective. Once again, it must contour to the face to be effective. No gaps should be seen between the mask and the area around the nose. I recommend taking a selfie with your phone to see if you have achieved that.
The material that a mask is made of is most important. You are looking for a mask that can filter out the virus and thus protect you. Gaiters should be outlawed. They truly give little if any protection. Please do not wear them. You need better protection.
Look for the best mask you can afford. Due to the infectious nature of the Omicron variant, masks that are made of one or two layers of material are no longer thought to be adequate.
One should look for a mask that is at least three-ply or five-ply, if possible, in order to provide you with the support and protection you need.
The blue surgical masks are great at protecting from large particles in the air and prevent the wearer from distributing large particles. Look for the N95 masks. They remain the most effective and practical masks for the public to wear. They filter out and capture 95 percent of tiny .3-micron sized particles (thus, the name). The Coronavirus itself is around .1 micron but the virus is usually connected with larger particles and is thus caught in this type of mask.
Yes, they can be expensive, but they can also be worn for several days if needed (though changing daily is ideal), and you are well worth the cost. They may not make the fashion statement you yearn to make but safety is more important.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) has on its website several approved KN95 masks. Most of these masks are for industrial use and may not give the needed protection so check out the approved list. We all need to wear the best mask that we can. The best protection of all is to be vaccinated. The vaccine, wearing masks and keeping a safe distance from people outside your household is a winning combination.
As we face the Omicron onslaught and the fear that other variants may come, being as prepared as we can be is the key to beating this pandemic.
Dr. Veita Bland is a board-certified Greensboro physician and hypertension specialist. Dr. Bland’s radio show, “It’s a Matter of Your Health,” can be heard live on Wednesdays, 5:30 p.m. on N.C. A&T State University’s WNAA, 90.1 FM. Listeners may call in and ask questions. The show is replayed on Sirius 142 at 5 p.m. on Wed. Email Dr. Bland at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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