Dealing with New Mask Guidelines in a Shortfall

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Pandemic fatigue is very real, but so are the new strains of COVID that have emerged in the U.K. and South Africa, with worrying new rates of transmission. These in turn have prompted public health officials to double down on warnings to wear masks, but it's been nearly a year and no one is really clear about where to get the right masks, when to replace them, or whether the mask you have is good enough.

Now, as winter digs in in the Northern Hemisphere, we're facing a potential shortfall of the gold-standard N95 masks, which remain urgently needed by health care professionals — and everyone else. In order to help contain the spread of the virus, we need to keep up mask-wearing. Any old mask won't do, of course: Masks with air vents (and, it must be said, costume masks) are not effective, but your washable cloth mask still does a good job as long as the elastics that hold it in place create a good seal.

If you're still looking for higher-grade PPE, hunting online may have turned into an exercise in frustration, plus possible scalping. Keep an eye on sites like Project N95's PPE for Everyone, which vets and sources personal protective equipment. You may also have noticed government officials double-masking in public appearances; by layering a surgical mask underneath a cloth mask, you can help block any particles that come from your own body. The ​Washington Post​ has a good video demonstration below.