Two years into the coronavirus pandemic, the increased transmissibility of the omicron variant has people ditching cloth masks and reaching for more effective N95 and KN95 masks. The city of Chicago alone is distributing 1.5 million of the masks through ward offices, schools and community groups.
Though N95 and KN95 masks are treated as disposable, single-use gear in clinical settings, in everyday life they can be reused for extended periods when cared for properly. (The difference between N95 and KN95 is largely a matter of where they’re certified: N95 in the U.S., KN95 in China.)
Here are some tips from city officials:
— Store masks in a dry paper bag to keep them clean between uses.
— Wash your hands before putting on or taking off a mask to minimize dirt.
— Don’t wash the mask or otherwise attempt to sanitize it with alcohol.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information has additional suggestions:
— Obtain three to four N95 or KN95 masks, number or otherwise label them, and rotate them daily.
— The masks can be boiled for five minutes, being careful not to boil the elastic straps. Don’t stir the masks in the water, and air-drying is recommended.
Masks have reached the end of their life when they’re dirty or have become stretched out to the point where they no longer cover the nose and mouth. A snug fit is the most important consideration, according to health officials.
A mask mandate remains in place for public indoor settings in Illinois for everyone over the age of 2, regardless of vaccination status.