Credit: (AP Photo / Matt Rourke)
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Seven out of 10 Americans believe COVID-19 is here to stay and we need to “continue our lives,” according to a University of Manmouth poll published in late January. However, the theme that remains is masks – many are strongly opposed to the mandate of the mask, citing it as a violation of their rights, but health experts believe that the mask is the most important protection against COVID-19.

In New Jersey, face coatings are no longer required for most indoor and outdoor spaces. And in early March, the state’s mandate for school masks ends. But cities like Newark retain a mask mandate until May.

So is the debate over wearing masks coming to an end? Hard to say.

Two years after the pandemic, the effectiveness of the mask is still being debated. But, according to Dr. Stanley H. Weiss, an epidemiologist and professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark and head of Rutgers School of Public Health, masks are critical to fighting the coronavirus and returning to normal life.

Masks are designed to block viruses from entering a person’s nose or mouth, Weiss explained. “Many masks are designed with three separate layers [them]; each layer is a different material and helps to stop the virus in different ways, ”he said.

All variants of the coronavirus enter the body equally, through the nose and mouth, Weiss said. But some options can cause less virus infection than others. Masks prevent the virus from causing infection and thus can be very effective in fighting the virus if worn properly.

“It is very important to cover both the nose and the mouth, especially the nose. Because this is the main entry point for the SARS-CoV-2 virus into cells in the back of the nose, ”Weiss said.

Not all masks are the same

The mask you choose is of great importance, Weiss said, and you must wear it properly to be safe. He explained that tinkering with the belts, regularly adjusting and removing it from the face to let air in, all reduces efficiency. Weiss recommends finding a comfortable and snug mask.

Experts no longer recommend fabric masks or even paper surgical masks with folds. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognizes that not all masks provide the same level of protection against COVID-19. The best options are certified by the National Institute of Occupational Safety. Among them are N95 masks made in the USA, or versions made abroad that are also certified by the governments of these countries, such as Chinese KN95 and Korean KF94. Weiss said both KN95 and KF94 provide comparable protection to the American N95 from COVID-19.

The CDC officially recommends wearing the N95 or KN95 as disposable masks and disposing of afterwards, but notes that they can be used up to five times as needed. To store the mask temporarily and in between uses, the CDC recommends first washing or disinfecting your hands and then placing the dry dirty mask in a paper bag. If you want to keep the mask wet or washable, place it in an airtight plastic bag and wash as soon as possible to avoid mold.

Although masks are no longer needed or required in most indoor and outdoor areas of New Jersey, the New Jersey government strongly recommends them for vaccinated and unvaccinated people in areas where there is an increased risk.

Where to get legal masks

There are several ways to find and test the right mask to buy. Weiss said the NIOSH certificate is printed directly on the N95 mask. Conversely, for KN95 or KF94 masks certified abroad, the certificate may be indicated on the box in which they were received. Some organizations, for example, Project N95sought to facilitate the search for the right masks by providing direct links to N95 certified vendors.

Old data used for new protocols

“Misinformation and misinterpretation of data is a serious problem and difficulty,” Weiss said. He recently came across an article in the news that cited an outdated study in the argument that masks do not benefit students against the latest version of COVID-19.

See when and where research has been done, he advises, referring to “two well-done studies [that] were completed long before Omicron appeared on the surface. Thus, if Omicron is different for children compared to previous versions, it cannot be assumed that the findings in these articles apply to our current situation … Omicron is different. Especially in relation to children. “

And as coronavirus variants continue to evolve, we will need to continue to reassess the risks, Weiss said. For him the main thing, regardless of vaccination status, if the masks are worn regularly and correctly, they can help prevent infecting people.

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