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Dr. Matt Heinz: Surgical masks "what the standard needs to be"

Omicron is leading people to upgrade their masks
Dr. Matt Heinz believes people should upgrade to surgical masks to counter the incredibly contagious Omicron variant.
Posted at 9:55 PM, Jan 06, 2022

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Pima County District 2 Supervisor Dr. Matt Heinz works in a Tucson area hospital.

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

“At that point, I would, like keep one of these bad boys around for like, weeks,” he said Thursday on Zoom, holding up an N-95 mask.

Supply has caught up since then.

Heinz says health care workers currently are wearing N95s with surgical masks over them to preserve their lifespan.

But with covid cases reaching all-time highs because of the Omicron variant, health experts say everyday people should also up the quality of their masks when they mask up in public.

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

“It’s about time, and thank God,” Heinz said of that policy change. “It’s gonna help a little bit. It may even help a lot.”

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

But Heinz says unless you are a health care worker, they aren’t necessary.

In his mind, the same goes for KN95s or KF94s, slightly more comfortable but also form-fitting with multiple layers of protection.

Heinz estimated N95s are roughly 15 percent better at containing infectious respiratory droplets compared to the more common surgical masks.

But Heinz says those surgical masks are “really what the standard needs to be” as an effective, less expensive middle ground.

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

That’s where cloth masks and bandanas come up short: they’re often only one layer and aren’t 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, pretty safely,” he said. “And you’re gonna get the majority of the benefit from it.”