Doctors, experts explain why N95 and KN95 masks better protect you against omicron

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Health leaders are encouraging the use of high-quality face masks like N95 and KN95 masks to better protect against the omicron variant, in order to slow the virus's spread and help decrease the amount of cases and hospitalizations.

"This is something to take seriously," Dr. Ben Weston of the Medical College of Wisconsin told CBS 58. "This is something to be cautious about and this is something to put up as many layers of protection around yourself as possible."

Omicron's ability to spread more easily compared to its predecessors means previous guidelines have to be revisited.

"Omicron, it really was a game-changer," Dr. Weston said. "The transmissibility is so much higher."

That high transmissibility is prompting health leaders and experts to recommend the use of high-quality masks or respirators like N95 or KN95 masks. The material and fit around the face of cloth and surgical masks does not provide the level of protection experts say is necessary to fight off infection from the omicron variant. N95 and KN95 masks are better equipped to do that.

"It's a synthetic-type material and it's designed to capture even the smallest particulate matter down to hundredths of nanometers," UW-Madison chemistry professor Timothy Bertram told CBS 58. "So, you get those two pieces that combine together, a well-fit mask and high-quality filtration material and that's what makes the best mask."

An added benefit is the durability of N95 and KN95 masks.

"If you were to wear this mask for weeks on end or something like that, eventually it will start to decrease its ability to filter out particles, but it's still pretty good in decaying in time, still better than your cloth mask," Bertram said.

The main difference in N95 and KN95 masks is where they are certified. N95 are certified by NIOSH is in the U.S. while KN95 masks, although very similar, are kept up to standards set by China. Dr. Weston said KF94 masks are also gaining in popularity because of their protection level.

Dr. Weston also warns against counterfeit masks that try to pass off as having the quality of N95 or KN95 but, in fact, do not.

A resource to ensure quality can be found at Project N95. CLICK HERE for more. 

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