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CDC urges Americans to wear ‘most protective mask you can’

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday revised its guidance for Americans on wearing masks to protect against COVID-19, recommending donning “the most protective mask you can” while stopping short of advocating nationwide usage of N95 respirators.

The CDC, an agency critics have accused of offering shifting and confusing guidance amid the pandemic, clarified on its website “that people can choose respirators such as N95s and KN95s, including removing concerns related to supply shortages for N95s.”

Americans should “wear the most protective mask you can that fits well and that you will wear consistently,” the CDC added.

N95 masks are flying off the conveyor belt at Protective Health Gear (PHG) in Paterson, New Jersey, as the manufacturer ramps up production amid the Omicron variant surge of the coronavirus in the United States. 

The company’s CEO Brian Wolin says demand is through the roof. 

“We are rapidly expanding, we’re ramping up, working 24/7 at this particular time, we’re hiring nonstop, we’re flying in new machinery, we’re ordering excess raw materials to be able to accommodate whatever the country needs. We are here to support the United States, we’re thrilled we can manufacturing these critical pieces of PPE,” said Wolin. 

The factory began producing N95 respirators in September 2020. These days it’s operating 24/7 to manufacture 70,000 N95 respirators per day. It plans to increase that number to 110,000 in the coming weeks, as demand from hospitals, distributors and consumers heats up. 

N95 respirators filter at least 95% of airborne particles, both large and small. A surgical mask, by comparison, is designed to protect others against virus particles that are breathed out. There is growing concern that cloth masks do not provide sufficient protection against the Omicron variant. 

“Here’s an RN95 respirator which is a flat-fold respirator,” said Wolin, holding the masks and gesturing. “The first thing you want to do is see that it has head harnesses or head straps instead of ear loops. That’s a clear sign it’s a NIOSH approved N95. You also want to see the word NIOSH in there as well. What we do to make it more comfortable is add a foam nose piece, which gives comfort around the nose. We have a very soft inner and outer layer, which is called spunbond. It gives the mask a tissue-like feel. And in the middle is a magic ingredient Meltblown which helps to filter out 95% of particulants at 0.3 microns.”

A federal agency called the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) regulates and approves N95 masks. Protective Health Gear respirators are NIOSH-certified. All of the respirators are batch tested before leaving the Paterson manufacturing facility and going out to sale. 

“It’s very difficult to become a NIOSH-approved respiratory manufacturer,” said Wolin. “You have to go through a lot of quality procedures, 100% of all respirators batch tested must pass 95% efficiency or higher.” 

The respirators are assembled in the USA using globally sourced materials. The manufacturer says that while it is not immune to the supply chain issues affecting global industries, it has ample raw materials at the moment. But costs have gone up, and trucking is an issue.

The Washington Post reported on Monday that the CDC is considering updating its mask guidance because of an increase in the number of Omicron-related coronavirus cases.

The agency will likely advise people opt for the highly protective N95 or KN95 masks worn by healthcare personnel, if they can do so consistently, the newspaper reported, citing an official close to the deliberations.

“I’ve been saying since day one, if they could make these available to everyone on the planet, I personally believe every problem we had would not be here at this particular time. Certainly, these weren’t available in abundance in 2020, but they are now. I think it’s fantastic that everybody should be wearing them. Let’s stop this and move on,” said Wolin. 

COVID-19 infections in United States are at their peak with 779,587 new infections reported each day. 

(Production: Christine Kiernan, Andrew Hofstetter, Roselle Chen)


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