As the number of daily COVID-19 infections in the Philippines continues to rise and the number of Omicron cases increases, taking extra precautions to keep yourself and your loved ones safe from the virus is imperative.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that people get vaccinated, keep physical distance in public spaces, avoid crowds, and wear face masks to protect themselves against the strain.
In the United States where the Omicron variant is the most dominant strain, medical experts are telling people to adopt better masking protocols as some face masks such as cloth ones won't cut it against the more transmissible Omicron strain.
Not all face masks are the same
Some face masks offer more protection from particles than others, namely, the Food and Drug Administration-approved (FDA) KN95, N95, and KF94 masks.
According to Stanford University infectious disease physician Dr. Abraar Karan, these respirators are better at blocking particles the coronavirus spreads through due to the electrostatic material the masks are made of.
Surgical masks are also made with an electrostatically charged material, but they tend to fit loosely than the three mentioned above.
The N95 respirator is considered by experts as the most protective face covering you can get, as it filters out at least 95% of very small particles that are 0.3 microns in size. These masks are usually worn by health care workers and are typically recommended to wear in public settings like public transportation and health care facilities, according to St. Joseph Health's Dr. Bob Lahita.
Some N95 masks come with an exhalation valve, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend against because these vents allow virus particles to escape.
The Department of Health (DOH) said in January 2020 that real N95 masks are rigid, thick, molded for the contours of the face, and marked with "N95."
You can buy N95 masks from BYD Philippines for P1,500 (10 pcs).
While the N95 is of US standard, the KN95 follows the Chinese standard. It's made of the same material as the N95 and can block 95% of airborne particles.
When wearing a KN95 mask, the CDC recommends not combining it with other masks and that you only use one of them at a time.
Dr. Tony Leachon previously told PhilStar L!fe that this kind of mask offers better protection against COVID-19 variants, thus there's no need to double mask.
Local brand First Protect produces FDA-approved KN95 masks, which are available for P120 for five pieces. You can shop for the masks on Shopee, Lazada, Mercury Drug, Southstar Drug, and Robinsons Supermarket online.
On the other hand, the increasingly popular KF94 masks are the South Korean equivalent of the N95, according to Columbia University epidemiology professor Stephen Morse. KF stands for "Korean filter," and 94 refers to its 94% filtration efficiency.
To make sure that a KF94 mask is legit, look for certifications from the Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (KFDA) on the packaging and look for the "KF94" mark. You can even verify from the KFDA website if the masks are registered.
Another mask type to know about is the FFP3 masks, also known as filtering facepiece respirators. It is a tight-fitting mask that can filter 99% of airborne particles.
Based on a trial at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, upgrading to this type of mask saw a "dramatic reduction" among healthcare staff.
You can find this type of face mask from 3M Philippines.
Can I reuse an N95, KN95, or KF94 mask?
According to Boston University's Dr. Jon Levy, it's alright to wear these masks multiple times. He suggests putting them in a paper bag or hanging them up for a few days before reusing them.
He also says that you can get 40 hours out of these masks as long as they don't get wet, so washing them is a no-no.
How can I stay safe from Omicron if I can't find these types of masks?
If you can't get your hands on any of the four masks mentioned above, you can always wear two masks (a medical-grade one underneath a cloth one). Wearing any mask still offers better protection against COVID-19 than no mask at all.
Check out the list of FDA-approved brands and types of face masks here.