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Are N95 Masks Effective Against Omicron?

Are N95 Masks Effective Against Omicron

The COVID-19 pandemic emerged in December 2019, affecting individuals of every age group around the globe. The SARS-CoV-2 virus has undergone several mutations over these months, adapting to the environmental conditions and breaching the protective barriers set up by humans. The variants include Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma, and Omicron.

The Omicron SARS-CoV-2 variant is similarly transmissible as compared to the previous variants. Throughout the pandemic, different types of masks have evolved. The N95 mask is one of the most common filtering masks used during the pandemic. The question arises whether the N95 mask is sufficient for providing protection against the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2.

What is an N95 mask?

The N95 mask is a respirator that filters particulate matter and provides protection against several respiratory diseases. The components of the N95 are listed down below.

  1. N: N in the N95 mask stands for 'non-oil'. N is one of the respirator mask ratings. This means that the mask is not resistant to oil-based particulate matter. The mask can be effectively used in an environment clear of oil-based particles. 
  2. 95: 95 in the N95 mask indicates the efficacy of the mask. The N95 masks filter 95% or higher of the particular matter. 
  3. 0.3 microns: This reflects the filtration capacity of the N95 mask. The mask filters particulate matter greater than and equal to 0.3 microns. Large droplets including saliva droplets from cough and sneeze are also filtered by the N95 mask. 
  4. Material: The N95 mask uses an electrostatic filtering material made of non-woven polypropylene fiber. This material is water repellant and does not shed fibers. Non-woven polypropylene is biodegradable and safe for the environment. 
  5. Valve: Some N95 masks employ an exhalation valve. The valve decreases the resistance during exhalation and makes the breathing process easier. However, the valve does not protect against particulate matter which is otherwise filtered by the N95 mask. In this situation, it is advised to wear a surgical mask over the valved N95 mask. 

Does N95 mask protect against the Omicron variant?

With the Omicron variant on the rise, the quest for a suitable mask has begun. While the majority of people wear the traditional face masks owing to the style and comfort they have to offer, these masks do not provide adequate protection against the Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2.

The traditional cloth masks do not filter minute particular matter and do not protect against the saliva droplets from cough and sneeze that contains the virus. Since the Omicron variant is more transmissible and severe as compared to the previous variants, a more protective mask is required to protect against the virus.

The N95 mask fits well on the face and prevents particles and droplets from breaching the protective barrier. This mask filters at minimum 95% of the particles in the environment and prevents these particles and virus-laden liquid droplets from reaching the mouth and nose. The use of the N95 significantly lowers the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection and provides sufficient protection against the virus.