Medical Technology

Why You Should Replace Your Cloth Masks for 3-Ply Surgical Masks, N95s

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Are you still wearing a cloth mask on your face?

With the rapidly expanding Omicron variant, experts stress that we all should swap cloth masks in favor of N95 respirators or three-ply surgical masks.

For background N95 respirators are tight fitted masks that protect your nose and mouth and help prevent contact with droplets and tiny particles in the air from people talking, coughing or sneezing, as well as spreading in other ways. Most often worn by health professionals and first responders, these masks are able to remove up to 95 percent of air droplets as well as particles, according to CDC.

KN95 and KN94 masks are the same, however they are designed to comply with international standards, in contrast to N95s that have been approved by the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

A three-ply surgical mask that is more loose fitting, can be used to prevent droplets of infection from getting into the air.

However, recommendations to choose N95 or 3-ply surgical masks instead of cloth masks are not new, according to Leana Wen MD Emergency doctor and professor of public health at George Washington University.

Health experts have been advocating stronger mask protection for a number of months.

“It’s not just with Omicron that we need better masks, it happened with Delta and Alpha before that,” Wen says. “We have known for a long time that COVID-19 could be airborne. Therefore an ordinary cloth mask won’t cut it.”

Here are some facts regarding protective masks.

They are essential

Omicron is spreading more quickly than other COVID-19 variants. Omicron is three times more likely to spread than the Delta variant. Mask-wearing is a must right now according to Anita Gupta (DO), adjunct professor of anesthesiology, critical care medicine and pain medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The quality of a mask is important, says Wen.

“Double masking, including a properly-fitting cloth mask over an operating mask, offers an additional layer of protection,” she says.

“Ideally however, people should wear an N95 or a KN95 indoors around people with unknown vaccination status.”

Wearing an N95 mask in high-risk settings where a large number of people are present, such as packed restaurants or busy commuter trains, could cause extreme discomfort.

“If you’re in a grocery store, there’s plenty space and air circulation. It’s not necessary to wear an N95,” she says. “I recommend that people obtain different masks and practice with them in low-risk settings prior to when they go out in public in a high-risk environment.”

However, everyone should wear a three-ply surgical mask at the very at.

Three-Ply Surgical Mask Qualities and N95 Mask Qualities

Wen claims that 3ply surgical masks are more problematic than their comfort.

There are ways to adjust these masks for smaller heads.

“You can wrap a rubber band around the ear loops, making them a bit more secure,” says Wen. “Some people find that pins in their hair work well to keep the loops in the right place.

Another important point to remember about N95s with 3 layers of surgical masks: These masks are reusable.

However, the number of times you should use them varies, Wen says.

Wen says, “As an illustration, if your sweat is very heavy and your mask gets very damp,” “Or you put it in your backpack or purse, and it is now too small to fit your face.

Protection First

Some people started to wear cloth masks as a method of making a statement. They wore logos of their favorite NFL team or even an animal print.

Wen emphasizes that you must always remember the purpose of wearing a face mask.

She believes that wearing a mask is extremely effective and helps reduce your chances of getting COVID. “People should employ whatever strategies they find inspiring, but for me it’s an exercise that is functional.”

Mask-wearing isn’t always fun, but it remains critical to protect people from COVID-19, in particular those with a high risk of being elderly, as well as other people, Gupta says.

“There is a wealth of research and experts working hard to stop COVID-19,” she says. “It is important for everyone to remember that wearing a mask on its own doesn’t guarantee safety.”

“We all need our hands to be spotless and we need to stay away from other people.”

For more information on where to find 3-ply surgical masks and N95s, look here or here to begin.


CDC. Leana Wen, MD, emergency room doctor Professor of public health, George Washington University.

The New York Times : Where to Buy N95s, KN95s and Surgical-Style Masques by 2021,” Omicron: What we know about the New Coronavirus Variant

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