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Health Experts Say N95 Face Masks Offer Best COVID Protection; How To Make Sure They Are Most Effective

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- With COVID-19 infection numbers jumping from the Omicron variant, it's a good time to consider or maybe reconsider what mask you are wearing to protect yourself and those around you.

Sparkly masks, superhero masks -- there are many choices, but experts say it's not about fashion. We need the best protection when it comes to the super contagious Omicron strain.

"This is not the time to be wearing a cloth mask. I know it's cold outside, but you do not want to use your scarf as your mask. They're really not doing anything, both from a physical barrier standpoint," said Dr. Geeta Nayyar, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Miami.

She says the gold standard for protection is an N95 face mask.

"The KN95 or N95, that 95 really stands for keeping out 95% of particles, so Omicron falls into that category," she said.

COVID VACCINE

Some New Yorkers who spoke to CBS2's Thalia Perez are already making the switch.

"I used to have the cloth ones, and I just changed," Queens resident Helaine Samuels said.

"I think it has a little bit more protection than the regular surgical mask, so I try to use them as much as I can," Queens resident Sharrell Lee said.

But it's so important, Nayyar says, to make sure it forms a seal against your face and nose, preventing any particle penetration around the edges.

She also says to use the N95 face masks without front valves or openings because they may actually propel germs further through the open valves.

Nayyar says if you choose to wear a 3-ply mask, double up because two surgical medical grade masks are better than one.

Another tip -- reusing your mask is OK.

"When you take it off, put it in a Ziploc bag. Keep it in a room temperature room," Nayyar said.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

If you want to know how effective your mask is, some experts say there's one simple test.

"You can do a very quick test by maybe taking a candle. Put your mask on. If you can blow out that candle through your mask, it's probably letting aerosols through," epidemiologist Dr. Anne Rimoin said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that proper mask wearing regardless of vaccination status is one way we can all stay safe.

Doctors say a cloth mask or any other face covering is better than wearing no mask at all.

CBS2's Thalia Perez contributed to this report, which originally appeared on Dec. 30, 2021. 

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