With the recent surge of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, experts have altered mask recommendations to avoid cloth masks and switch to medical-grade surgical masks or respirators, such as N95 and KN95 masks. If you’ve been partial to reusable, cloth masks up until this point in the pandemic, you may be wary about switching to a disposable option. However, there is some room to reuse medical grade masks, depending on where they’re worn and what type of mask you’re wearing.
Surgical masks are readily available and sold in most drug stores. These are one-and-done masks, meaning they should be discarded after a single use. If you still want to wear a cloth mask, you can wear a surgical mask underneath for an added layer of protection.
Respirators like N95 and KN95 masks have become the gold standard for facial protection against COVID-19. These masks feature five-layer construction along with materials like polypropylene fibers, which provide both a mechanical and electrostatic barrier to prevent airborne particles from getting into your mouth and nose. Unlike surgical masks, respirators have some potential for reuse. If you wear one in a busy indoor environment for a long period, you will want to discard it after use. However, for normal daily use, you can reuse the masks several times.
There’s no magic number for how many days you can re-wear a respirator mask, and it’s a good idea to cycle through 2-3 at a time, wearing a different one each day. When masks are not in use, they can be stored in a paper bag or hard container (be sure to crack the lid to avoid condensation). Only handle your mask by the ear loops or head straps, and make sure to wash your hands before putting your mask on and taking it off.
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