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This is a bi-weekly Q and A column written by Dr. Lydia S. Segal. M.D. in conjunction with Chaffee County Public Health. This column is focused on questions readers have about COVID-19 news and sciences.  As Segal points out, ‘Everything I write today is valid for today. COVID-19 news and science are rapidly evolving, assume updates will be made”

QUESTION: What are the best masks to wear with the rapidly spreading Omicron variant? 

 ANSWER: Masks that are made of a high-tech material that filters out about 94 percent of dangerous particles have proven to provide better protection from giving and getting COVID than cloth masks can provide.  Two years ago when there were very few of these masks available other than for health care staff, cloth masks were the only option. Now as a variety of high-quality masks are available, it is time to switch out the cloth masks for one of these.

Lydia S, Segal, MD, MPHQUESTION: Which mask style is best for me? And is one style better than another?

ANSWER: There are three basic mask styles: the cup style, duckbill style, and flat fold style. The particular shape is less important than having one that is most comfortable while at the same time fitting your face tightly. Masks also come in two styles of attachment: ear loops and head straps. Which style you get is a matter of personal preference. These masks come with the designation N95, KN95 or KF94.

QUESTION: How can I make sure I am not purchasing fraudulent masks? Can you supply some links that will help me make careful purchases for these masks?

ANSWER: The following are some links that will help:

The CDC has several mask guides. For discerning mask quality:

For help with spotting counterfeit masks see

A few trusted non-governmental sources for masks include Project N95 and a series of resources by an engineer who goes by the name ‘Mask Nerd’. He has a YouTube channel and Twitter feed for excellent reviews of mask qualities.

If you decide to use Amazon, consider using these tips and then go directly to the manufacturer and buy from them directly. Sometimes fraudulent copies have appeared on Amazon’s site.

Masks should have certain numbers and letters stamped on them to assure they are legitimate. As an example, KN95 made in China should have GB2626-2019 on them.

N95 masks should have the imprint  NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) plus additional numbering or lettering.

KF94 masks, made in Korea will not have a stamp on each mask but will have “made in Korea ” and include product name, manufacturer, and distributor name on the box.

QUESTION: When do I need to change out my mask?

ANSWER: If you are wearing your mask all day at work, it is likely done and needs to be disposed of at the end of the day. If you are wearing it for a few minutes or hours, you can reuse it but let it air dry overnight. Many people rotate masks, alternating daily. This allows each mask to get adequately aired out. But once you see your mask is soiled, throw it out. Also, do not wash masks; washing destroys their protective abilities.

QUESTION: Should I try to intentionally catch Omicron, the current variant that is reported to be highly contagious, in the hopes that it provides future immunity? I hear symptoms are very light, so much so that it is often referred to as “COVID lite.”

ANSWER: There are a number of reasons why this is not a good idea.

If you are NOT vaccinated, the current variant is not ‘COVID lite,’ like a cold. In fact, this variant accounts for more than 75 percent of the people who are hospitalized with COVID.  Currently, most COVID patients who are in ICUs are NOT vaccinated. There are also other classes of people at risk for getting a serious case of COVID requiring hospitalizations even though they may be vaccinated and boosted. These include those who are over 65, have conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, cardiac, pulmonary, neurologic, or liver disease, or are immunocompromised.

Another reason to avoid trying to get Omicron is the risk of getting long COVID. Long COVID is having symptoms for greater than a month. These symptoms may include the loss of taste and smell, debilitating fatigue, shortness of breath, brain fog, and mood changes, to name just a few problems. Additionally, you can be at risk for spreading COVID to children who are not yet immunized. And yes, children do get COVID and do end up in the hospital.

Finally, as more people get COVID who require medical care, either in an outpatient or hospital setting, it puts a burden on the already overstressed health care system. In some states, there is a shortage of ICU beds and staff, and there are more and more postponements of non-urgent and elective surgeries.

QUESTION: Do people who get COVID a second time have a worse case?

ANSWER: There is not enough clear data to answer this question. Compounding the simple matter that people have different health and demographic backgrounds is the fact that people have had different variants each time they got sick. Because of these underlying differences, it is at this point impossible to determine a definitive answer.

For more information about and COVID, the vaccines, eligibility, and appointments, see the links below. Pharmacies and doctors’ offices are getting small shipments of vaccines. Information will be posted in this news source and on the county public health and hospital web pages.

Pharmacies with vaccine clinics:

Salida:  Safeway, Walmart and Salida Pharmacy

Buena Vista: Mt. Shavano (LaGree’s), City Market, BV Drug and Valley-Wide Health

If you have questions you would like Dr. Segal to address in a future COVID Q and A column, please write to

By Lydia S. Segal, M.D., MPH