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In an effort to combat the more infectious omicron variant, the Washtenaw County Health Department will distribute free KN95 masks at the County’s Environmental Health Department west of Ann Arbor on Saturday.

With an average of 1,000 cases a day, Washtenaw County is currently labeled as a high transmission area. Michigan hospitals are filling up, with record numbers of hospitalized patients. Healthcare workers are calling it a “double wave” with a surge in cases in December and now another in January. 

As mask requirements become more common, KN95 masks are in high demand. The county is holding a pick-up event this week for free KN95 masks west of Ann Arbor. 

Masks are available only for small groups or families, not large organizations. Eventually, the Washtenaw County Racial Equity Office would like to organize large distributions. 

The event will be on Saturday, Jan. 15 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at 705 North Zeeb Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48103. 

Although 98% of University of Michigan students are vaccinated, weekly cases on campus have surpassed the thousands. In an email to campus community members, President Mark Schlissel announced that the University will be distributing free N95 masks at all seven CSTP sites while supplies are available.

“We’re distributing N95 masks at CSTP sites, while we have supply,” Schlissel wrote. “These are available for anyone in our community, and you don’t need to be getting a (COVID-19) test to receive one. We are working to broaden N95 mask distribution locations in the days ahead.”

N95 masks are similar to KN95 respirators according to The Seattle Times, but the former are certified by the United States Department of Occupational Health and Safety Administration. KN95 masks, by contrast, are made in China and certified under that country’s safety standards. The Centers for Disease Control has raised concerns about fake KN95 masks, estimating as many as 60% of KN95 masks in the United States are fake. Kelly Carothers, Director of Government Affairs at Project N95, said although counterfeit KN95 masks provide some protection against viruses such as COVID-19, those at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 should ensure their masks are NIOSH-certified. 

Real KN95 masks are more effective than surgical masks because their tighter fit and non-woven fibrous material help filter out 95% of air particles. According to a graphic from the Wall Street Journal, if two people in close contact are wearing KN95 masks, it will take 25 hours for COVID-19 to be transmitted between them. Without masks, that transmission takes a mere 15 minutes. If tightly-sealed KN95 masks are used, they will have 2,500 hours of protection.

Daily News Reporter Ashna Mehra can be reached at