Doctors hope free N-95 masks will help slow Omicron transmission

The Biden administration is providing 400 million N-95 masks to Americans across the country
N-95 face mask.
N-95 face mask.(Source: WVUE)
Published: Jan. 24, 2022 at 6:25 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The highest quality face masks made in the U.S. are being rolled out for free starting this week as the Biden administration provides 400 million N-95 masks for Americans. And local health care professionals and scientists say it is another tool to combat the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Dr. Katherine Baumgarten is medical director of infection control and prevention at Ochsner Health, the largest healthcare system in Louisiana.

“Anything that we can do to help prevent spread by wearing masks or testing frequently especially with symptoms or exposures is going to help hopefully to reduce the burden,” said Baumgarten.

Chad Roy, Ph.D., a professor of microbiology and immunology at the Tulane School of Medicine and director of infectious disease aerobiology at Tulane’s National Primate Research Center discussed the benefits of N-95 masks.

“N-95s, first of all, the “N” stands for non-oily and it protects against 95% of what’s out there, floating around,” said Roy.

Other masks many people are wearing are less protective he said.

“The surgical masks and face coverings they’re kind of uni-directional, if you can think about it that way, so they protect, those types of masks protect others from you but if you’re sick and you may not even know that you’re sick,” said Roy.

Roy says N-95 masks provide protection for the wearer and the people they are around.

“The N-95 does that, it’s bi-directional. It’ll protect others from you, and it’ll also protect you from others,” said Roy.

Americans will be able to get the masks at places like pharmacies and community health centers.

A spokesperson for Walgreen said in an email to FOX 8, “We are pleased to partner with the Administration to make N95 masks in varying sizes available free of charge at participating Walgreen’s locations while supplies last. Customers and patients can pick up a maximum of three masks per person. We expect the first stores to begin offering masks on Friday, January 28, and will continue on a rolling basis in the days and weeks following. Participating stores will have signage indicating mask availability.”

Roy said the protection N-95 masks afford is based in how they are made.

“The N-95 is made with certain material that will filter out very, very small particles from the ambient atmosphere around you which you breathe at about 0.3 microns which is infinitesimally small,” said Roy.

He was asked whether K-N95 masks are good enough.

“Sure, they essentially do the same thing. They’re made of the same substrate, the same material that will protect you from ambient virus and those bioaerosols that carry that at that particular size that I mentioned, .3 microns and above,” Roy said.

Baumgarten urges people to not just receive the N-95 masks but use them.

“So, people need to wear the masks that are provided, use the tests that are provided in ways to try to prevent spread to others. With COVID it’s all about mitigation efforts,” Baumgarten said.

And Roy stressed that the virus is evolving, and public health recommendations reflect such.

“People need to keep that in mind that this is very dynamic, you know, the advent of us attempting to use different types of masks for instance,” said Roy.

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