Face masks have been an essential tool throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to stop the spread of the virus.
But as the Omicron variant continues to infect millions of people at an unprecedented rate, there are calls to reconsider what type of mask is appropriate.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reported to be considering updating its mask tips to recommend people wear N95 masks.
While official Australian health councils have not changed, a growing number of medical experts say people should be proactive in upgrading their protection.
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What type of face mask is mandatory?
Each state and territory has different rules for when to wear a face mask, but the definition of a face mask is the same across Australia.
A face mask can be one recyclable fabric face mask or a disposable surgical mask, which may include a P2 or N95 mask.
The face mask should sit securely around the face and cover both the nose and mouth.
Some jurisdictions specify that face masks must be made of at least two or three layers of fabric.
A scarf, bandana, snood or face shield is not a face mask.
What type of face mask protects against the Omicron variant?
A growing group of experts say that medical respirators, known as N95 or P2 masks, are the only masks that can prevent transmission of the COVID-19 Omicron variant.
Brisbane-based computer scientist Jeremy Howard, who in 2020 made the world’s largest review of evidence on face masks and the ability to stop aerosol dispersal of COVID-19, told The World Today that the evidence is evolving.
“Delete your fabric masks, and also drop your surgical masks,” he says.
“Omicron is so aerosolized that it’s such small particles that float in the air.
“When you breathe in, you suck in the respiratory particles.”
Dr. Paul Griffin, a specialist in infectious diseases, says N95 masks provide more protection, but was not usually recommended for widespread use in society due to they are more expensive and challenging to wear.
“We see so many people with masks that are perfectly fine, which then do not cover the nose.
“The most important thing is still that people wear them properly.”
It says Australia’s expert group on infection control a mask or respirator is not a substitute for other precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 including being tested, staying home in case of malaise, physical distancing, good internal ventilation, hand hygiene and cough etiquette.
In Australia, COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for all persons aged five years and over.
What is an N95 Mask?
N95 masks, also known as P2 masks in Australia, are particulate filter masks.
They are also sold under the name KN95.
These masks filters out very fine particles and helps protect against droplets and airborne transmission.
Particulate filter respirators can also be used to protect against poor air quality, such as bushfire smoke or smog.
Respiratory protection has previously only been recommended for healthcare professionals due to lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the requirement that they be “fit checked”.
Adjustment control is the process that doctors follow to ensure that the respirator is properly sealed around their face.
Facial hair can prevent a respirator from sealing properly.
N95 and P2 masks are sold with instructions not to be cleaned and recycled, and organizations like NSW Health recommend that they be replaced when they get damp.
Howard says, however, that research has shown that respirators do not need to be fit-checked and that they can be used more than once.
“In fact, these respirators like N95s can be worn until the straps are largely worn,” he says.
Dr. Griffin says that N95s provide more protection, but that they are more expensive and can be challenging to wear.
“If they are not worn properly, some of the added benefit is reduced,” says Dr. Griffin.
“We do not necessarily recommend them all the time, but if people want to make sure they are as protected as possible, it would not be an unreasonable step to give that little bit extra to try to get one of them. Protection for them . “
What is a surgical mask?
Surgical masks are suitable for medical use and is intended to be discarded after use.
They are designed to prevent other people’s airway droplets from entering your mouth and nose.
Surgical masks sold as medical devices in Australia are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
They are typically blue on the outside, white on the inside and sold as Level 1, 2 or 3, with increasing degree of protection.
Dr. Griffin says how to wear a surgical mask and how long can affect their performance.
What is a fabric mask?
A fabric mask, also known as a fabric mask, is a non-medical mask that can be washed and recycled.
They are designed to prevent the release of airway drops when a person breathes, speaks, coughs or sneezes.
Dust masks are also designed to prevent a person from inhaling drops from other people.
Research has found that fabric masks are effective in preventing the spread of the COVID-19 Alpha and Delta variants.
That quality and effectiveness of fabric masks are not regulated in Australia.
The health authorities recommend that fabric masks be made of three layers of fabric of different weaves.
A fabric mask should cover both your nose and mouth, and there should be no gaps between your face and the mask.
Face masks with holes or one-way valves are not suitable.
Can you reuse surgical masks or N95 masks?
It says the Australian Commission for Health and Safety in Healthcare surgical masks can only be used once.
Particulate filter respirators such as N95 and P2 masks are only sold for single use.
Physicians who are required to wear them are instructed to take care of them to ensure a tight seal and to dispose of them after use.
Sir. Howard says research has shown that respirators do not need to be suitable and that they can be used more than once.
“Respirators like the N95s can be worn until the straps are largely worn,” he says.
“The actual filter material has been tested according to a standard that requires it to continue to be effective after 200 days of 24-hour use per day.”
Sabrina Assoumou, a physician for infectious diseases at Boston Medical Center, tells the general public that respirators “could probably be reused in about a week if they are not dirty or wet.”
Do you need a double mask?
The CDC in the USA says that a surgical mask can be worn under a fabric mask.
It says that two surgical masks should not be worn at the same time, and respirators such as N95 and P2 masks should not be combined with any other mask.
Dr. Griffin says a mask that is used and worn properly is better than double masking.
“One of the biggest problems we see with the fabric masks is that people don’t put them on and take them off properly, nor do they wash them enough,” he says.
“And with the surgical mask, people will reuse them for longer periods, and they recommended it.
“So if they are worn properly and they are replaced regularly, as they should, I would think that a single surgical mask for most situations is adequate protection.”
What is the best face mask for children?
Children under the age of two should not wear a face mask due to risk of suffocation and suffocation.
Victoria does not require children under eight to wear a face mask.
All other states and territories in Australia do not require children under the age of 12 to wear a face mask, with some exceptions in high schools.
The World Health Organization recommends Children who are in good health should wear a fabric mask or non-medical mask.
It recommends children with underlying health conditions to wear a medical mask.
N95 or P2 masks are designed to fit adults.
Need to make your own face mask?
Dr. Griffin says it’s a viable option to make your own face mask in fabric.
“People need to find some good instructions, and there are plenty of them on the Internet,” he says.
“Make sure you use the right materials and the right thickness of these materials.
“And of course, make sure you wear it properly and then wash it regularly if you need to use fabric masks.”
The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services recommends that face masks in fabric are made of three layers of different types of fabric.
The outer layer must be a water-repellent fabric, such as polyester or polypropylene.
The intermediate layer must be a mixed fabric, such as a cotton polyester blend or polypropylene.
The inner layer must be a water-absorbent cotton fabric.
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