Just when we think we’ve got a bit of a handle on what’s going on, we get sucker punched again. In an unkindness of ravens, the very smart blackbirds always look for a sign of order, a snatch of competent direction to latch onto for group action. It’s always survival first, then food, mating or mad escape. Sense and order. That’s the life. You lose some winged companions along the way to eagles, hawks or falcons, but you keep flying, no matter what.

In the human realm, constant confusion now reigns, and it’s not pretty. How do we just keep flying when the daily information we depend on deifies order and surety. Vaccinate with a booster, and we’ll be safe, we’re told. That’s supposed to be especially true when we wear protective masks when in public. So we’re able to manage the grocery stores and the airports and everything in-between when we just pay attention to the daily covid rubrics.

But what happens when what we depend on stops being dependable? The deadly news feed about the virus keeps showing major, undeterred public infections with the accompanying overwhelming of hospitals and more stupid decisions from Republican leaders-in-charge. Way too many people are still getting sick, and too many are still dying. And their colors are a real rainbow—they’re not just Black or white.

And the new aphorism about ‘As Republicans bray foolishness, more brayers simply disappear’ doesn’t quite cut it for the rest of us. That’s a slow drip. Like the ravens, we need a little more order here!

Take the mask issue as a prime example. Now we’re being told most masks aren’t safe against the omicron variant. Whooptee Do!! Now what do we do? Dammit!

As a kindness, or unkindness, we’ve still got to deal with people in both open and closed circumstances and now we’re being told that our designer masks are virtually useless to protect us from infection! Where’s the sense in that? Birds got to deal with other birds, and people got to encounter other people! That’s life.

As for the new mask information, we’re now being told that given the proliferation of hundreds, even thousands, of new producers in this field now, there are, of course, many counterfeiters. These are people willing to make and sell masks that help you catch covid, not protect you from it. Now who would do that? 

To better protect ourselves, we are now being told to pay more attention to mask details. Getting the golden seal of masks for oneself—the N95 (followed closely by the KN95 and the KF94)—is still very difficult as they are generally produced for and mainly sold specifically to medical personnel and first responders.  Considered the best high quality masks available for regular consumers (if you can get them), these masks are made with layers of high-tech filtering material that trap at least 94 to 95 percent of the most risky air-borne particles.  

The N95 respirator mask is regulated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which is a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and it is required that these masks have specific text stamped on the front of the mask. A N95-labeled mask with no such text means the mask is most likely a counterfeit, unsafe mask. The same thing is true if the mask has only ear straps but not the head straps that wrap all the way around.  The legitimate N95 mask should be stamped with the initials, “NIOSH,” the name of the company which made the mask, a mask model and a lot number, and lastly, a “TC approval” number, which can be used to look up the mask on a list of approved masks made by that company. In other words, we now must search for a high-quality mask the way a lot of people now search for organic and other types of quality food—read the labels.

Whether the mask you choose is called “a snug-cup” style, a “duck bill” mask or a “flat-fold” mask, the best thing is to find the one that really does fit snugly against your face and is comfortable. Don’t accept at face value the claim that “one size fits all.” It doesn’t.  If the mask you choose doesn’t form a seal to your face, in these times of the omicron variant, the mask is a waste of your time, and most likely of your health. 

The KF94 mask won’t be stamped with text, but the package it comes in, at a minimum, should say, “Made in Korea” and it should include the product name, the manufacturer’s name and the distributor’s name. The package will also have an expiration date and a lot number printed on it.

The current official ranking of masks from highest recommended to least states that the N95s approved by NIOSH and the KN95s are the best, if you can get them. Next are the disposable surgical masks seen everywhere, but the caveat is that they must fit properly, and if in large crowds (football or basketball games, for instance), it is highly recommended that people double mask—that is, wear a cloth mask over a surgical mask. The stand-alone cloth mask is the least recommended on the list, especially the loose-fitting type. They are called virtually useless. When cloth masks are used they should include multiple layers of tightly woven fabric that will block light when the mask is held up to a bright light source.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

DISCLAIMER: The beliefs and viewpoints expressed in opinion pieces, letters to the editor, by columnists and/or contributing writers are not necessarily those of OurWeekly.

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