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N95 and KN95 Masks Are Technically Single-Use Only—Here’s How to Safely Stretch Their Longevity


Health

N95 and KN95 Masks Are Technically Single-Use Only—Here’s How to Safely Stretch Their Longevity


Cloth masks aren’t cutting it. To best protect yourself against omicron, experts suggest you may need a respirator mask (think KN95 masks and N95 masks) or a surgical mask. As SELF previously reported, the low-tech material of a cloth mask isn’t as effective at blocking small aerosol particles—respirator and surgical masks are made with at least one layer of polypopylene, which electrostatically filters out these tiny airborne particles. Combined with the looser fit, cloth masks are much less effective at preventing the transmission of omicron. They’re about 25% effective at blocking the transmission of virus-carrying particles overall—which, should be noted, is better than nothing—but far inferior to respirator masks, which are up to 95% effective at blocking the transmission of virus-carrying particles, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Getting your hands on disposable respirator masks, however, is getting more challenging. So, how long can you safely wear an N95 or KN95 mask before throwing it out?

According to guidelines for health care facilities issued by the CDC, N95 masks should ideally only be used once, and (un-ideally) up to five times. The more you reuse your mask, the more its fit and filtration performance—the keys to making these masks a sound defense against the airborne transmission of the omicron variant—are compromised. 

Given there’s no end to the pandemic in sight, you’d have to have potentially hundreds of masks on hand if you were only going to use each one once. Which feels nearly impossible. While the CDC officially declared the shortage of N95 masks over for health care facilities in the U.S. last May, for many people in this country “a mask is not always affordable or convenient to get,” President Biden said in an address on Thursday, per CNN. Luckily, getting respirator masks may soon be easier—in his remarks, Biden announced a plan to start distributing free masks to people in America, the details of which will be announced next week. 

In the meantime, health experts have some advice for safely prolonging the life of your respirator…



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