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With the Omicron variant quickly spreading, it’s time to upgrade your mask

As we head into 2022, it’s been roughly two years since the coronavirus arrived in the U.S. As cases are once again on the rise across the country, more safety measures are being put into place.

Just when it looked like certain parts of the pandemic were coming to an end, now many businesses are reinstating mask policies. Tap or click here to clean and sanitize your COVID-19 face mask.

Masking up can certainly help contain the spread — but some masks are better than others. Cloth masks may not be enough to help you get through the next wave of the pandemic unscathed. As the highly contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19 ravages the country, medical experts say it’s time to upgrade your face masks.

Why medical leaders say N95 masks are the best

You may remember that N95 respirators were hard to find earlier in the pandemic. Not anymore, as long as you get your hands on the genuine product.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) inspects N95 respirators closely before certifying them for use. As a refresher, the NIOSH is part of the CDC, so these are stringent procedures meant to ensure your safety.

These are made of multiple layers of melt-blown fabric and non-woven fabric, which helps contain airborne particles from slipping into your body through your nose or mouth.

In the past, N95 respirators were reserved for professionals in the medical or construction fields but are now more widely available. Good news: You don’t have to go to any specialized medical suppliers to pick up them up. You can get a large pack on Amazon for less than $50.

The most widely-available option that still meets certification is the KN95, with are typically cheaper. But whether you choose one of these options or any others, do your research. The CDC says about 60% of KN95 respirators in the U.S. are counterfeit and do not meet NIOSH requirements. Here’s what to look for.

RELATED: What are your chances of getting COVID? New CDC map charts breakthrough cases

A few quick tips you need to know

If you’re still using the cloth mask you bought in spring/summer 2020, it’s a good time to upgrade to something offering more protection. While research continues on the Omicron variant of COVID-19, it’s been widely established that it’s much more transmissible than previous variants including delta.

When you’re shopping for masks, you’ll encounter a few different varieties. This overview from the CDC has a few general tips you should keep in mind.

Of course, this is pretty general advice you may already know. If you want some more in-depth information, we’ve got you covered.

Even if you aren’t able to get your hands on an N95 mask, you can also try the KN95 or KF94 masks. Of course, with these acronyms and numbers, it may be tough to keep them apart. That’s why we made this quick and easy chart to differentiate them all.

Here’s what you need to know about some of the most popular mask varieties:

* They’re typically made out of cotton or linen

* They should be washed daily

* While they’re better than nothing, they don’t provide maximum protection
* They’re the U.S. standard for face masks

* They’re made of multiple layers of melt-blown fabric and non-woven fabric

* Recommended by American medical experts
* They’re the Chinese version of N95 masks
* They’re known for their small, tug fit
* They’re the South Korean version of N95 masks

* KF stands for “Korean Filter”  

* They comfortably contour to the face with a band you can adjust around the bridge of the nose

In times like these, it’s good to look to professionals for guidance. Make sure to grab yourself some medical-grade face masks to power through 2022.

🚨 What it means for you

What’s seemingly clear about the Omicron variant is that it spreads more easily and now makes up more than half of all confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S.

✅ Experts say single-layer cloth masks do little to protect yourself or others. N95 respirators are designed to not only snugly fit your face, but more efficiently filter airborne particles. Tap or click here for information on different styles of face covering.

The CDC recently updated its site with a new map showing how prevalent different variants are across the country. Check it out here.

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have regarding a medical condition, advice, or health objectives.

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