Omicron Precautions: How to choose the best protective face masks
Demand for respiratory protection products, especially masks, is soaring again. But which one should you prefer?
Jaipur-based businessman Akhil Jangid (name changed to maintain anonymity) let his guard down too soon. He recently got Omicron and also the shock of his life. “I never thought it could happen to me. Omicron seemed so far from us until I had it,” says Jangid. Thankfully, he did not have any severe symptoms. Just the unusual body aches, low-grade fever and shorts bouts of dizziness. “I have learnt my lesson the hard way. You don’t have to. Mask up or face the consequences,” says the handicrafts trader.
Before you start scurrying to buy more masks or digging up old ones from the back of your cupboard, listen to this: “Your regular cloth mask is no good. Since the R0 factor for Omicron is considered to be 12-18 times or even higher, it spreads much faster. Its infectivity and virulence is a cause of concern,” said Dr Naresh Trehan, the Chairman-MD of Medanta hospital, Gurugram.
Which is the best type of mask? “One that comes with layers. You need one that’s slightly thicker than a regular surgical, procedural or cloth mask. It should not have any gaps on the sides nor should it hang loose or have valves. Some of the disposable ones are good, but don’t buy cheap quality,” says Dr Haroon H, Consultant, Internal Medicine, KMC Hospital, Mangaluru.
People find cotton masks comfortable. If you must wear one, make sure it’s made of a densely-woven fabric. “Quilted cotton is good. But anything that stretches too much is not useful, as it may allow particles and droplets in the air to slip in,” says Haroon, adding, “Bandanas and handkerchiefs will not stop the infection. Similarly, women who cover their mouth with scarves and stoles, are vulnerable.”
Given this scenario, the return of the N95 mask is inevitable. Dr Abraar Karan, an infectious disease physician at Stanford University, suggested that people with comorbidities such as obesity, lung disease or poorly controlled diabetes, should consider upgrading to an N95 or KN95 mask. These are also called filtering facepiece respirators and are 95 per cent efficient in keeping water droplets out.
Masks ending with 99 have 99 per cent efficiency and masks ending in 100 are 99.97 per cent efficient, making it akin to a HEPA-quality filter—the gold standard of purifiers. “If you are in a high-risk zone such as a hospital, N95s will work better, but if you’re headed to the market or the office, KN95s should suffice,” says Haroon. Mask up right and stay safe.
The face cover protocol
✥ Frequent pulling down of the mask will leave you vulnerable
✥ Remember, this variant spreads much faster
✥ The mask should be a layered one and should fit the frame of your face
✥ There should be no gaps. If that means getting one custom-made, do that.
✥ Look out for the acronym NIOSH or its logo
✥ The fit should be comfortable as these have been designed with two bands that go around the back of the head and neck
✥ N95 masks never have ear loops. They only have headbands.
✥ There should be a testing and certification code
✥ These should cost between Rs 200 and Rs 600 depending on the features. If you’re getting it for any less, leave it.