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The history of COVID-19 & face masks
Looking back to pre-COVID times, the average person had no experience with face masks and especially no experience with N95 respirators. That changed in January 2020 when a mysterious Coronavirus-related Pneumonia in Wuhan, China, began to emerge around the world. If you would have told me then that PPE (personal protection equipment), respirators, or face masks would have become a part of my everyday life, I would not have believed you. By March of the same year, the mysterious virus had a name, COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus raged and was declared a national emergency, and face masks were becoming the new norm. With this new way of life emerging, learning to become comfortable in a face mask that offered life-saving protection became a very serious priority to many Americans.
Becoming familiar with N95 masks
When I and others like me began to hear about the N95 NIOSH-approved respirator, it was not a new technology. However, in 2020, most Americans had never been exposed to them. Back then, if you knew about an N95 mask, you were either in construction or medicine. For the rest of us, we did not have any need for this type of mask. As the infection rates rose, we quickly learned how important and normal N95 masks would become in our lives. Like anything else, new technology and designs emerge when something affects a large enough population. This is no different for the N95 respirator. New technology emerged in both vaccinations and PPE. Since then, we have surpassed 1 million deaths from COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2). Almost all Americans have tried on or worn a face mask or respirator of some form to protect themselves from contracting the virus, and in turn, mask technology has evolved. Because of COVID-19, there are some great masks available that provide more protection without compromising comfort.
So, let’s first get a quick recap on why the N95 mask is essential and different from your everyday cloth or surgical mask.
COVID-19 is over; do we need a mask now?
Although each of us experienced incredible life changes in the past three years, 2022 feels like we are beyond the COVID-19 epidemic. Since a large majority of Americans have had their vaccinations, and the news has long since turned its back on COVID-19, the epidemic seems less scary. Almost all mask restrictions have been lifted throughout the US, and normal activities like work, school, and extracurricular activities have resumed. Many are no longer social distancing or wearing masks. This change in perspective has led many people to decide to unmask in public. Life is going back to ‘normal,’ leaving many Americans asking if masks are still necessary. We found information that could convince some people to mask up.
In the face of new COVID-19 variants like Alpha, Delta, and Omicron, it is essential to be aware that this virus itself is not over. SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19, is constantly changing at a rapid pace. Since 2020 and the beginning of the pandemic, we have witnessed changing vaccination and transmission rates that continue to spike in various locations. We have also witnessed new variants emerge more quickly than most of us had expected or (perhaps) would like. Some of these variants and subvariants are more contagious than others. Infectious disease scientists will tell you that changing variants are expected and are a part of the evolution of a virus. Therefore it is important to stay up to date on new variants, their properties, and the current vaccines and mask technology. Many scientists and medical professionals agree that it is now more important than ever to protect ourselves and others, especially when some of the new variants are more contagious than ever.
COVID variants, Alpha, Beta, Delta, Omicron, and subvariants.
The Alpha (B.1.1.7), Beta (B.1.351), and Delta (B.1.617.2) variants were first identified in 2020 and spread quickly throughout the world, along with more than 40 subvariants. Some of these became household names quickly. Many of these are more contagious and resistant to vaccinations than others. Scientists and doctors are finding a few of the variants to be more life-threatening, with long-term life-changing repercussions in individuals who were not vaccinated. We are witnessing these long-term effects, including difficulty thinking, headaches, concentration, sleep problems, dizziness, permanent loss of smell and or taste, lung (respiratory) symptoms, including difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, cough, chest pain, fatigue, Blood clots and blood vessel (vascular) issues, including a blood clot that travels to the lungs from deep veins in the legs and blocks blood flow to the lungs (pulmonary embolism) to name a few. The aftermath being termed long COVID is not only difficult for the individuals experiencing them, but many medical professionals are noting that they are more harmful than the original COVID-19 virus. Unfortunately, the unvaccinated are more likely to be hospitalized and experience more serious symptoms, including death, from some of these variants as well as the original virus.
Next on the scene was the Omicron variant. It was first identified in 2021 with over 30 mutations and subvariants, including B.1.1.529, BA.1, BA.1.1., BA.2, BA.3, BA.4, and BA.5. This soon became the predominant variant with subvariants developing quickly. Omicron and its different subvariants are extremely efficient at spreading and evading the protection that is provided when vaccinated. However, these subvariants are not considered as severe as the initial virus and the variants and subvariants that came before, Like Alpha, Beta, and Delta, according to the CDC.
Although there are still three vaccinations available, and they are all considered highly effective against severe illness, hospitalizations, and the death rate, there is some concern about more variants and mutations already in existence due to limited access in some places throughout the world. Understanding this and being educated and updated on the virus is key to prevention and personal health and well-being. Luckily, the technology surrounding this virus is improving daily.
New N95 mask technology
Although the variants can be extremely frightening when focusing on our futures, the good news is that technology continues to emerge, bringing us new research, vaccination boosters, and PPE/face mask technology. Today, as compared to two years ago, the comfort, quality, and protection provided by face masks are far superior to what was available to us at the beginning of the COVID-19 epidemic. We have choices, and we do not need to sacrifice comfort for protection any longer!
The new and improved N95-NIOSH-approved respirators.
There are a variety of N95 face masks on the market that offer a variety of attributes for different needs. Many of these give superior protection without compromising comfort. One of these N95 respirators seems to rise above the rest of its competitors and is worth talking about and even trying out for yourself.
An N95 mask that is different from the rest.
The NIOSH-approved N95 strapless face mask (Level 2 FFR) is an innovation in face mask technology, which is ideal for a variety of uses, including healthcare, dentistry, long-term care, and just average everyday use. Although most of us cannot get excited about an N95 face mask, this mask is a bit different and may even inspire you to make a mask change once you have looked at all of its attributes.
First, the most important attribute of a mask is PROTECTION! According to a CDC study, “N95 masks were found to be 48% more effective than surgical or cloth masks… Wearing an N95 mask reduces the odds of testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 by 83%. This is compared with 66% for surgical masks and 56% for cloth masks, further pushing the need to swap out such face coverings for an N95 mask for protection from SARS-CoV-2.” The CDC encourages wearing “the most protective mask possible that you’ll wear regularly, fits well and is comfortable. Respirators such as non-surgical N95 masks meet this criterion and, according to the CDC, can give the most protection.”
An N95 NIOSH-approved mask (if a verified N95 is not a fake) filters out 95% of airborne particles. While in comparison, surgical masks are not able to filter out or block very small particles in the air that may be transmitted by coughs, sneezes, or other splashes. Health care practitioners like dentists and surgeons must pair an N95 respirator with a surgical mask for full protection when working around blood, saliva, and other bodily fluids. The benefit of the strapless N95 mask makes this double masking more comfortable and breathable than wearing a traditional N95 respirator.
This respirator is strapless yet forms a comfortable seal around the edges of the face. The Strapless N95 mask uses medical-grade hypoallergenic adhesive, whereas a traditional N95 mask relies on a painful metal nosepiece and tight straps to form a pressure seal. Traditional N95 respirators also require fit testing to ensure a proper seal; otherwise, the wearer will notice gaps and openings. This can be worse for some because of the shape of their face or the design of the mask.
Cons: Unfortunately, if you have a beard, this mask is not a good solution for you, as the adhesive will not create a seal with facial hair.
An N95 Mask that fits many face sizes and shapes.
The Strapless N95 respirator does not rely on a pressure seal or metal nose bridge like its competitors. Instead, it is made of a comfortable acrylic material that uses a hypoallergenic medical-grade adhesive to create a seal. In addition to the seal, this mask comes in three different sizes to fit a variety of face sizes and shapes. If you think your face won’t fit this mask, you may be surprised when you give it a try. Alliant Biotech is currently offering a free sample of each size (you only pay to ship) while supplies last. This can help you determine which size will work best for you and ensures that you are protected with the best possible fit.
Cons: The mask will not fit faces with facial hair and is a different shape than other N95 respirators. You will have to be committed to safety over style.
An N95 face mask designed for sensitive skin and allergies.
If you have allergies, you know that some adhesives can wreak havoc on your skin. The Strapless N95 respirator uses a proprietary hypoallergenic medical-grade adhesive, making it a great fit for someone who has sensitive skin.
Cons: I will note that it is possible to have some sensitivity to the adhesive, but it is rare. Also, if the mask is improperly removed, it can create some sensitivity. Similar to other adhesive items like Band-Aids, ripping it off quickly will likely create some discomfort. The proper removal is to peel the mask off slowly and gently from under the chin and remove it.
An N95 respirator mask designed for convenience.
This strapless mask is flat and can be stored in a drawer, purse, glove box, locker, or a variety of other spaces. The mask is incredibly easy to apply and remove from your face and is disposable and biodegradable. If you were not able to apply the mask the first time, no worries. Simply un-peel the mask from your skin and start over. If you find you have re-applied too many times and the adhesive is compromised, then you should apply a new one.
Note: Tips on the application of the mask can be found here.
A disposable mask that can be reusable in certain instances.
The Strapless N95 mask can be lifted when eating or drinking. ‘What? Lifted and re-applied, you say? Yes, the adhesive can be gently peeled away from the skin and then reapplied after taking a drink, eating lunch, taking a break in your office, or getting into your car. A bonus when double masking with a surgical mask is although surgical masks should be changed between patients, the strapless N95 respirator if used in conjunction with a surgical mask, does not need to be replaced after every patient. The strapless N95 mask should be replaced daily but it is disposable and cost-effective. The same rules apply to this mask as a traditional N95: if it becomes damaged, loses its seal, or is soiled, it should be replaced (according to the CDC).
An N95 mask that is metal-free and can be worn in an MRI setting.
The Strapless N95 respirator is completely safe for MRI use. It is metal-free, using a medical-grade adhesive that conforms around the nose. There are no metal pieces, fibers, antimicrobial coatings, or metallic nanoparticles. The strapless mask is NIOSH-approved and metal-free, leaving you with less hassle when masking for MRI procedures.
An N95 mask that can be worn with glasses and does not fog up.
Foggy glasses are one of the most annoying things I can name when wearing a mask. The Strapless N95 mask is a game-changer in this department. The seal created by the adhesive on the face mask nearly eliminates any fogging of glasses and face shields.
Cons: If the mask is not applied correctly, you can still experience gaps in the mask and the fogging up of glasses, similar to a standard everyday N95 mask with straps.
An N95 mask that does not cause bruising or damage to your face or ears.
The Strapless N95 mask is incredibly comfortable. Unlike the traditional N95 mask with uncomfortable straps and metal, the strapless N95 mask is free of uncomfortable metal and straps. It is designed to have minimal effects on your skin and face When properly applied to the face; it will remain in place with your head and facial movements, yawning, coughing, or sneezing without any adjustments.
An N95 mask that is inexpensive and the country of origin is the USA
The Strapless N95, NIOSH-approved respirator from Alliant Biotech is comparable to traditional N95 masks but far more comfortable and breathable (in our opinion). The strapless mask is manufactured in the state of Ohio and distributed throughout the USA.
No mask is perfect
While there is not one right mask, there are wrong masks! Be careful of fake N95 masks (read… for more info). The Strapless N95, NIOSH-approved mask is superior to most masks on the market. It is comfortable, easy to apply, fits a variety of face sizes and shapes, is cost-effective, and is a good choice for both medical and non-medical professionals. Although you may be feeling we are beyond many of the initial dangers of the COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic, the dangers of variants and subvariants, as well as other viruses on the horizon that don’t even exist, are real. We are in a time when protecting ourselves and our family’s health is not only possible but necessary. That is why it is a good idea to keep a NIOSH-certified, comfortable N95 mask on hand for high-risk environments, as well as daily wearing in public.