(CNN) You’re ready to swap out your old cloth masks for N95s, as some experts recommend, but the high price tag and two little words — “single use” — are giving you pause. How long can you really wear an N95 and still protect yourself and others from COVID-19 exposure?
“I wear mine for a week,” said Lynsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech.
The material and filtration capacity of an N95 mask “is not going to degrade unless you physically rub it or poke holes in it,” Marr said. “You have to be in really polluted air … for several days before it loses its ability to filter out particulates. So, you can actually wear them for a long time.
“People have been talking 40 hours — I think that’s fine. Really, it’s going to be thicker than your face or the straps will be too loose or maybe even before you’re going to lose filtration capacity,” she said. added.
Erin Bromage, an associate professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, said N95 masks are designated as single-use, because they are classified as medical masks.
In medical settings, health care workers change masks more frequently to “cross-contaminate a patient’s room with equipment worn in the room of the infected person and then move to the next room to bring that infection with them.” can,” he said. “When you take a medical-grade thing that’s single-use and put it out to the general public, we’re not worried about you getting cross-contamination in different environments. It’s really It’s about providing you security.”
“N95s” used to be only $1 or so each, Bromage said, but prices have risen recently as public demand for these masks has increased amid Omicron type concerns. If you safely reuse N95s, you’re getting at least two or three days of use out of a mask, Bromage said, but “I realize it still adds to an expense. “
Some local public health departments, such as the Maryland and Milwaukee Departments of Health, are offering free N95 masks.
Here’s what else you should know about wearing and reusing an N95 mask safely.
Compared to cloth masks, properly fitted N95s keep small particles from getting into your nose or mouth, thanks to some materials – such as polypropylene fibers – that act as both mechanical and electrostatic barriers to shared air. which are the primary drivers of coronavirus infection.
According to Oklahoma’s state health department, the difference between an N95 and KN95 mask is that the mask is certified.
The US certifies N95s, while China approves KN95s. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 60% of KN95 respirators sold in the US are counterfeit and do not meet the requirements of the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety.
“If they’re made to the standard and certified by the appropriate boards in their home country like NIOSH, they all do basically the same thing,” Bromage previously told CNN. “But there are a ton of knockoffs that aren’t certified on the KN95 side of things that may meet the standards but they’re not certified to meet it. And there are some that clearly don’t.”
N95 masks “are not made for children,” Marr said. “For older kids, my 10-year-old wears an N95 that comes in a smaller size (for adults).”
“If you see an N95 marketed to kids, that should raise a red flag,” Marr said. “There will be KN95s and KF94s that are designed and marketed for kids. With them, it’s the same issue as we discussed for adults, which is to make sure you get them from a reliable, reputable source.” Because there’s a problem with counterfeit KN95s that aren’t nearly as protective as they should be.”
Project N95, the National Clearinghouse working to provide equitable access to personal protective equipment and coronavirus tests, is a reputable source for N95 and KN95 masks, Marr said.
KF94s are Korean-standard masks.
Mar said you may have to try a few different brands or sizes of KN95s, KF94s or smaller N95s to find one that fits well and is comfortable for your child. If you’re still having trouble putting the mask on your child’s face, you can tie ear loops or use toggle or cord lock adjusters to make sure the mask fits snugly. This CDC video on the knot and tuck method can help, too.
Reusing N95 Masks—And When Not
To reuse an N95 mask as safely as possible, avoid touching the front exterior of the mask while putting it on, Mara said. Instead, try handling it by the sides or straps. “Definitely avoid the area right in front of where you breathe, like right in front of your nose and mouth,” she said.
Even after wearing N95 in a crowded indoor setting — such as the subway — “these masks are designed to handle really a lot of particles and will continue to work,” Marr said.
However, a known risk should affect your outlook. If “I was working in an office and I was wearing an N95 and someone in my office tested positive, I’d know I was well protected,” Bromage said. “But I would probably throw that mask away. Because that mask does trap the virus and I don’t want to risk it getting there and getting on my hands or anything.”
That you may have unknowingly been near an infected person in another public place – such as the subway or grocery store – while wearing an N95 mask is possible. Keeping a distance of at least 6 feet from others as much as possible can help reduce the risk of COVID-19.
If the mask becomes damp, looking dirty, bent, stretched or otherwise damaged – including from wearing makeup – you need to replace it because these conditions can reduce the effectiveness of the mask, marring and bromage. he said.
“The longer you wear it, the more it’s actually trapping material — which means the breathability, the resistance of the mask, starts to decrease,” Bromage said. “If it looks nice and clean then one of the first indicators of being able to change it is that it finds it a little harder to breathe. There seems to be more resistance with each breath.”
how to sanitize n95 mask
The longer and more frequently you wear an N95 mask, the more contaminated it can become. But the particles will die off over the course of a few to several hours, Marr said, and even faster if you expose your face to sunlight.
“Things like temperature and sunlight have an effect, but you don’t want to throw it in the oven or microwave,” Bromage said. “I used to stick mine on the dashboard of my car in the summer, and that would be more than enough in relation to the heat and direct light it was getting. But really, there’s nothing you can do with cleaning through its life.” to expand what is accessible to an average person.”
Because N95 masks have that special static charge that helps filter the virus, you shouldn’t wash the mask, as the water will wash away the charge, Marr said.
Overall, the risk of contamination in reusing an N95 mask is “very, very low compared to the risk of you not wearing N95 and breathing in the particles,” Marr said. “I don’t want people to avoid wearing an N95 because they’re worried about contamination on the N95. N95 is going to provide a huge net benefit.”