KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Through a majority of the pandemic, wearing a face mask has been required or recommended by health officials.
As cases of the highly transmissible omicron variant of COVID-19 continue to surge around the country, doctors are encouraging people to upgrade their masks to ones that offer higher levels of protection.
On Friday's University of Kansas Heath System Morning Medical Update, Dr. Amber Schmidtke, chair of the Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at the University of St. Mary, said it's currently a good time to start wearing N95 masks.
"If you are wearing cloth masks, they are very cute, but they are not very effective against this variant," Schmidtke said.
This comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention upgraded its mask guidelines over the weekend. The agency said respirators approved by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, such as N95 masks, offer the highest level of protection.
For a long period of time during the pandemic, it was nearly impossible to find N95 masks. However, they are more widely available now in places such as hardware stores.
Leroy Andrews, co-owner of Strasser Hardware in Kansas City, Kansas, said he's been noticing an increase of customers buying them over the last week to ten days.
His shelves have been fully stocked with N95 masks for the last six to eight months, but that wasn't always the case.
"It was probably a year before we could actually get the N95 mask," Andrews said.
He said if demand skyrockets, there's a good chance his shelves will go empty again.
"Supply chains right now are not like it was two or three years ago, it seems like you never know what is going to run short," Andrews said.
Dr. Dana Hawkinson with the University of Kansas Health System said if people cannot find N95 masks they should still wear any kind they have, because any mask is better than no mask.
Ordering N95 or KN95 masks online can come with the risk of receiving a counterfeit mask.
To be sure what you are buying is legitimate, you can go to projectn95.org, which vets N95 and KN95 masks.
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