CDC could change mask guidance; Newport News company says N95 offers best protection

Posted at 3:18 PM, Jan 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-12 22:16:02-05

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the N95 mask was primarily used by doctors and nurses in hospitals, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other experts say it offers the best protection.

Now, as the omicron variant is spreading like wildfire, the CDC is expected to put out new guidance on mask-wearing.

Cloth masks may look a bit more stylish and might be more comfortable to wear, but experts say they may not offer the best protection from the new omicron variant.

"Transmission occurs with large droplets that you cough or sneeze out, and much smaller particles called aerosols can persist in the air," said Dr. Patrick Jackson, an infectious disease expert with the University of Virginia.

According to the CDC, a person wearing a cloth mask standing within 6 feet of an unmasked individual with COVID can become infected within 20 minutes. For a person wearing an N95 mask in the same situation, it would take 2.5 hours to become infected.

"We manufacture an N95 mask here in Virginia. You can see it's different, as it has head straps," said Gary Warren, CEO of ivWatch and Blox Direct in Newport News.

Blox Direct is the only manufacturer of N95 masks in Virginia. This fall, the company received approval from the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health for its product.

The N95 is a mask with two straps and efficient filtration, offering the tightest seal. It's often worn in hospitals or industrial settings.

"The top head strap goes on the crown of your head and pulls up on the chin piece," Warren said. "The next strap pulls down on the nose so it gives you a very tight seal to your face."

There is also the KN95, widely used but a bit less protective, Warren said.

"This just has an ear loop, and it folds vertically. They tend to slide up and down your face while talking — people are readjusting all the time," he said.

KN95s are often made overseas and can be counterfeit.

"On the N95, they have a TC number on them. It's a lot of writing, but you can get on Google and type it in. [It needs to] come up from the CDC that it is on the trusted N95 list; if it doesn't, it's a fake," Warren said.

Most drug stores do not carry N95 masks. You can purchase at sites online verified by the CDC, or from Blox Direct's website.

There are a few pharmacies on the Peninsula that also carry Blox N95 masks:

  • Williamsburg Drug Company (Williamsburg)
  • The Prescription Shoppe (Williamsburg)
  • Hidenwood Pharmacy (Newport News)

You can click here to check the TC number on your mask with the CDC to see if it is NIOSH-approved.

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