But while there are many different kinds of masks available, which one is the best for you, and how many of those should you wear while stepping out?

According to Dr Sanjith Saseedharan, consultant and head critical care, SL Raheja Hospital, Mahim — a Fortis Associate, and Dr Sandeep Patil, chief intensivist, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan, masking practices have evolved since the beginning of the pandemic, but confusion still persists about which mask to wear and in what circumstances.

They list three types of masks that can be considered; read on.

1. N95, KN95, or KF94 – These are made using global standard material. When used accurately, ensuring proper fit, these high-quality and high-filtration rate masks filter out tiny particles, offering 95 per cent protection.

2. Surgical mask – If made using three-ply filtering materials, surgical masks can give protection against large particles and some tiny particles. But, these masks do not seal the face properly and leave gaps near the edges. The only way to improve the fit is by double-masking. This mask, when worn in pairs, is ideal for everyone, especially those with COPD, asthma, or any other breathing issue, and who can’t wear an N95 mask.

3. Cloth mask – This mask is only effective when worn with a surgical mask. A cloth mask reduces emissions of larger droplets to some extent from an infected person’s nose and mouth, but offers little protection for the uninfected wearer as the material does not significantly filter out small particles.

How to use and discard the masks?

The doctors say it is important to first wash hands and gently remove the N95 mask, place it in a sealed plastic, zip-lock bag, or a breathable container such as a paper bag between uses. Secure the bag tightly and re-use the mask only on day 7; each mask must be placed in a separate sealed bag and can be re-used on day 7, for up to 4-5 times.

For single use N95, place the mask into a sealed bag and place the bag into a garbage can or biomedical waste disposal unit. Surgical masks should be wrapped in a tissue paper or polythene bag and immediately discarded in bins with lids, whereas cloth masks should be washed separately, properly, frequently and left to hang and air dry. It is crucial to never put on a new mask until you have properly washed your hands. After disposing of the single-use and reusable masks, wash your hands thoroughly.

Who can wear the N95 mask?

“Once reserved only for the healthcare staff, the N95 mask is now recommended for everyone as an efficient filtration device, giving the highest protection against the new Omicron variant. An N95 prevents 95 per cent of particles in the air from entering your nose and mouth, frontline workers like bank employees, post office workers, rail and bus ticketing agents, civic staff, and people who encounter thousands of people each day should use them. The mask does not get saturated even after a few days of normal (non-dusty) use, so it can be reused 2 to 3 times,” the doctors explain.

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