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Experts share which masks are most effective against new COVID-19 strain

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French health honchos are urging citizens to say au revoir to cotton masks because they simply aren’t effective enough against new, potentially more contagious variants of COVID-19.

Instead, France’s health advisory council has recommend that single-use surgical masks should be worn. Experts here agree — and tell The Post it’s an important time to consider upgrading your mask choice.

One homegrown mutation of the virus, dubbed 20C-US, is believed to be responsible for up to 50 percent of all US cases — hitting the Midwest the hardest, researchers said earlier this month. Those findings come a day after scientists at Ohio State University said they discovered a different strain of the COVID-19 virus — which carries a mutation similar to the UK strain.

“As we progress in this pandemic, we are coming to the realization that no, not all masks are the same,” said Dr. Martin Cohen, assistant chair and teaching professor in the University of Washington’s Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences. In the spring, he conducted crude aerosol experiments on masking materials to find suitable substitutes in the absence of personal protective equipment (PPE).

So which ones are the best? Here’s a look at which masks hold up in 2021 as scientists learn more about the increasingly mutating virus.


“The gold standard are obviously the N95 masks, regardless of the COVID strain,” said Dr. Rajesh Mohan, a New Jersey-based cardiologist and author of “COVIDslayers: How We Can Win! and What Really Went Wrong? A Physician Leader’s Experiences From the Frontlines.”

It was also found to be the best mask in a comprehensive review of masks by Duke University researchers over the summer.  

It was the most effective of the bunch on the study’s logarithmic scale.

Surgical masks

Surgical masks, if replaced often, are the second-most effective type of mask to use in 2021.
Surgical masks, if replaced often, are the second-most effective type of mask to use in 2021.
dpa/picture alliance via Getty I

Those single-use surgical masks are also a good standby, and considerably more comfortable than the face-conforming N95s.

“The next best thing is surgical masks,” Mohan said. “If people wore them, there would be about 70 percent decrease in infection.”

The Duke researchers also found it to be the second-most effective variety, ranging from 0 to 0.1 in terms of the particles spread from speaking while wearing one.

KN95s or KF94s

Aaron Collins, a Minnesota-based mechanical engineer, who wrote his master’s thesis on the science of aerosols and calls himself a “citizen scientist,” has been reviewing masks on his YouTube channel since August.

Collins turned his bathroom into a makeshift lab, using an aerosol generator to pump out tiny particles of salt and water. A condensation particle counter counts how many particles are in the air and how many are in the mask Collins is currently testing. He compares the number of particles inside the mask with the number outside of it, which helps him determine its effectiveness.

His best bets, he found after his research, are protective masks such as KF94s, KN95s or N95s.

A KN95 mask is among the most effective masks for 2021.
A KN95 mask is among the most effective masks for 2021.
Alamy Stock Photo

“N95s are obviously the best, because it seals to the face, but the disadvantage is that it is secured with a headband which can destroy your scalp.” In his research, he has found that KF94 masks range from 90 to 99% protection, while KN95 masks also perform well, but they have more variation in quality.

He advises against buying masks on eBay or Amazon because there are bootleg versions floating around.

“The marketplace is still an issue. Scammers still have a massive amount of inventory out there.”

Instead, he suggests buying from two companies: New Jersey-based importer, Be Healthy USA and Bona Fide Masks.

Double masks

Two masks really are better than one as new variants of the coronavirus are found to be more contagious than previous variants.
Two masks really are better than one as new variants of the coronavirus are found to be more contagious than previous variants.
AFP via Getty Images

Ever since November, when New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick wore two masks after his quarterback Cam Newton tested positive for COVID-19, questions have swirled whether doubling up is the best course of action.

“If your first line of protection is not significant, like a scarf, you can put on another layer,” said Mohan. Other researchers second that sentiment, saying a cloth mask and surgical mask make for an effective pairing.

“Obviously, the more layers you have of fibers between one person’s mouth and the other’s, there is less risk of spreading infection. But it could be diminishing the benefit, as far as the ability to breathe,” said Mohan. “The idea is that it should be snugly fit without making you uncomfortable.”

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