All masks are not created equal

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) – Pima County District 2 supervisor Dr. Matt Heinz works at a Tucson-area hospital.

He remembers the early days of the pandemic, when masks of all kinds were incredibly hard to find.

“At this point, I’d like to keep one of those bad boys for like weeks or so,” he said on Zoom Thursday, holding up an N-95 mask.

Since then, the offer has caught up.

Heinz says healthcare workers currently wear N95s with surgical masks on them to preserve their lifespan.

But with cases of covid reaching record highs because of the Omicron variant, health experts say ordinary people should improve the quality of their masks when they mask themselves in public as well.

The University of Arizona and other institutions across the country are making surgical masks the new minimum in campus buildings and on public transportation.

“It’s about time, and thank goodness,” Heinz said of this policy change. “It’ll help a bit. It can even help a lot.

Heinz says the N-95s are the “gold standard” of face masks because they conform to the wearer’s face perfectly and have multiple layers.

But Heinz says that unless you’re a healthcare worker, they’re not needed.

In his mind, the same goes for the KN95 or the KF94, a little more comfortable but also tight with several layers of protection.

Heinz estimated that N95s are about 15% better at containing infectious respiratory droplets compared to more common surgical masks.

But Heinz says these surgical masks are “really what the norm should be” as an effective and less expensive middle ground.

“There are only standards here, like the specific material used, we know the filters to a certain particular standard,” Heinz said of surgical masks.

This is where cloth masks and bandanas fall short: they are often only one layer and not standardized.

And while surgical masks are disposable, Heinz says a box of them can go a long way.

“If you take good care of [a surgical mask], you could probably wear it for a week, maybe even more, safely, ”he said. “And you will reap the majority of the benefits. “

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