Can't Find a KN95 or N95 Mask? This Expert Says to Double Up on These 2 Types of Face Coverings

Dr. Leana Wen of George Washington University says that while N95 and KN95 masks are the most efficient in the fight against omicron, cloth and disposable masks combined work too

double masks
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As omicron infections continue to break records in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, wearing masks remains a critical tool in the fight to avoid infection.

Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University, tells PEOPLE what is the best course of action in regards to face coverings, saying, "you really should obtain" certified, medical-grade KN95 or N95 masks.

While those are the most efficient in terms of protection, Dr. Wen also says there's the option to double up and wear "both" of the more widely available versions of masks on hand — the cloth and disposable surgical versions.

"Here's the reason. A 3-ply surgical mask is the minimum of what you should be wearing at this time, in the face of such a contagious variant that is airborne," Dr. Wen tells PEOPLE. "For many people though, that surgical mask doesn't fit well around their face, and having a cloth mask on top of that, that's well-fitting, can improve the fit."

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"But you really should have an N95 or KN95," she adds. "This is an airborne virus — you should have the right mask with that in mind."

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The medical-grade respirators "are affordable and easily obtainable" and despite some confusion out there, they can be reused.

"They're about $1 each. They can be reused. I reuse my masks if I'm using them lightly for at least a week," Dr. Wen adds. She also tweeted about how and when masks should be reused, or disposed of, on Monday night.

Dr. Wen tells PEOPLE that it's important to make sure N95 and KN95 masks are purchased "from a trusted source," since they need to be certified and there are lots of counterfeits on the market.

Bill Taubner, president of Bona Fide Masks and Ball Chain Mfg. Co., Inc. tells PEOPLE that "the standard consumer will have a hard time spotting a counterfeit mask by simply looking at it or holding it. The only way to know that you're buying a credible and authentic KN95 is to find a company that is an authorized or exclusive distributor of the KN95."

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According to Taubner, the best way to make sure your respirator is the right kind is by "using a KN95 that was previously authorized for health care professionals under the FDA EUA," or the Emergency Use Authorization issued in 2020 to allow for use of various PPE in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

"We are theexclusive distributor in the United States for both Powecom KN95 and Harley KN95 mask products," he adds, referring to the certified masks his company sells. "The only way to know that you're buying a credible and authentic KN95 is to find a company that is an authorized or exclusive distributor of the KN95."

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