BOISE, Idaho — With the recent surge in Omicron cases, Idaho health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say masks are still the best way to help protect yourself and others against the highly contagious variant of COVID-19.
However, one type of mask may not be as good as another. Health officials now recommend surgical masks - N95 or KN95 - rather than cloth masks for the best protection against tiny airborne droplets that may contain the coronavirus.
Also, watch out for counterfeit masks. A report released by the CDC says about 60 percent of the KN95 masks out there right now are counterfeit.
"What that means is that they don't actually meet that 95% filtration and effectiveness standard," said Ann Weiss, Primary Health Physician and Clinical Supervisor.
Masks like an N95 can filter up to 95% of particles compared to cloth masks that only give you 37% filtration. So, when dealing with the variant like Omicron, that 95% filtration can make a large difference in protecting you from the virus.
So, how do you know you’re wearing the correct mask?
Weiss says there are possible warning signs before buying approved N95 and KN95 masks from third-party marketplaces or unfamiliar websites.
No markings, no approval or TCC number, and the misspelling of NIOSH on masks is a sign that the mask isn't the real thing.
NIOSH stands for National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. It's part of the CDC, which is under the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.
The CDC says NIOSH-approved respirators have an approved label that can be looked up and verified on NIOSH’s website.
“Usually, N95 respirators have markings across the mask. They are going to say that they are NIOSH-approved, with a number and an official logo," Weiss said.
Other things to look out for are decorative fabrics, and if the mask has ear loops instead of headbands.
Also, look to see if the mask claims to be approved for children. It’s important to note that NIOSH does not approve of any type of respiratory protection for children at this time.
“There aren't any N95's for kids because they have not been studied. These are intended for adult healthcare workers, so for kids who are over two, I suggest a good-fitting cloth mask," Weiss said.
Weiss added that finding the correct mask has been a challenge for many people.
"It's not straightforward. You actually have to look at the specific manufacturer and the fine print and try to find that manufacturer on this list and look at the approval number next," Weiss said.
Even if you can’t get your hands on an approved N95 or KN95 mask, some protection is still better than no protection.
"Cloth masks are just fine. You are going to get protection as long as it is well-fitting, as long as it's sealed at the nose and you're wearing it over your nose and mouth." Weiss said.
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