Due to the spread of the Omicron variant, Williston community members are now required to wear different types of masks, giving people the option to choose, and leading to varying opinions on mask safety.
On December 31, Head of School Robert Hill outlined the new mandate that, “Students must follow the newly revised CDC recommendations for masks by wearing an approved N95 mask, KN95 mask, or KF94 mask, or to double-mask using two surgical masks or a surgical and cloth mask.”
According to the CDC, N95 masks filter 95% of particles in the air and are approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH). KN95 masks filter 95%, and KF94 masks filter 94% of air particles.
N95s have been used by healthcare workers throughout the pandemic and are known to be reliable. KF94 masks are standard in South Korea, and they are regulated by the Korean government. They are also consistently safe.
As for KN95 masks, NPR reports that, “KN95 is a Chinese respirator standard, but these respirators aren’t strictly regulated by the Chinese government.” There have been low quality and fake KN95’s produced throughout the pandemic, but it is more of a problem now that they are CDC recommended.
The announcement of updated mask guidelines gives community members the option to choose whether they wear a double mask, or a different CDC-approved mask.
Olivia Lawry, a senior from Westfield, Mass., makes her mask choice based on appearance and comfort.
“I choose to wear a double mask because one time I heard the other ones look silly,” she said. “Also, I think it’s more comfortable because it’s basically the same thing [as one surgical mask], just a little heavier, and the ear [loops] are way more comfortable than the other two.”
Anthony Min, a senior from Seoul, Korea wears a KF94 for the safety the mask provides.
“I feel like it’s one of the safest masks out there and my mom sent these to me so I feel like I should wear them,” he said. “I was just wearing a surgical mask before, now I’m wearing these, but I feel like this one is harder to breathe in.”
The CDC endorses all these masking options, but people make their own choices based on comfort level
Lee Greener, Director of Financial Aid and a dorm parent in Mem East is trying to balance safety with comfort.
“I bought a couple different kind and I find that I’m still trying to figure out what my comfort zone is,” she said. “I have lots of disposables and cloth [masks] I can use, [and I wonder] is there a psychological piece to it that the KN95’s feel more comfortable and safer.”
Since the CDC released the new guidelines, KN95’s have been in high demand.
“I bought them all before we arrived [back from winter break], but all of mine were delayed and I even had a package that was supposed to arrive like four days ago with masks that continues to be delayed,” Greener said. “I had a harder time finding masks that would come in that were better protection for my two-and-a-half-year-old than I did for me.”
On Amazon right now, KN95’s are selling for around $1.00 per mask, KF94’s for around $0.40, and N95’s for around $2.00. All these prices are high compared to surgical masks which sell for around $0.20 per mask. The #1 best selling KN95 mask on Amazon currently has a two-to-three-week shipping period, without taking into account shipping delays.
While new mask requirements allow people in our community to choose what they are most comfortable with, they also create a sense of uniformity, as surgical masks are now more common than fabric masks.
Sage Friedman, a senior from Florence, Mass., misses wearing fabric masks.
“I feel like it was it was a really good form of creative expression. I had a lot of fun ones with like smiley faces or flowers or different designs and I felt like they could add to my outfits of sort of be a part of my expression,” they said. “But now it feels like everyone looks the same and everyone looks very sterilized.”