A new CDC study shows the benefits of the extra...

A new CDC study shows the benefits of the extra protection provided by N95 and KN95 masks. Credit: Getty Images/Justin Sullivan

People who consistently wear N95 and KN95 masks/respirators are 83% less likely to test positive for COVID-19, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those who wore surgical masks were 66% less likely to test positive, followed by 56% who wore cloth masks, according to the study out of California.

The research affirms what health experts on Long Island and around the country have been advising people about the importance of wearing masks, even as the latest pandemic wave fueled by the omicron variant has slowed down.

The seven-day average percentage of positive test results reported on Saturday on Long Island was 5.31%, according to state figures. Just one month earlier that figure was 26.76%.

"The data supports it and we have to follow data and what clinically makes sense," said Dr. Nancy Kwon, vice chair of emergency medicine at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park. "It’s definitely important to wear masks."

DAILY POSITIVITY RATE

Nassau: 4.9%

Suffolk: 4.2%

Statewide: 3.52%   

7-DAY POSITIVITY RATE

Nassau: 5.1%

Suffolk: 5.5%

Statewide: 4.87%

Source: New York State Department of Health

While N95 and KN95 masks/respirators are believed to be the most effective, Kwon noted that the other masks mentioned in the study provide a barrier to the virus.

The CDC has advised people who wear cloth masks to pair them with a surgical mask for better protection.

But there's a push to end the state’s mask mandate, which expires for general indoor public places on Feb. 10 and in schools on Feb. 21, including from some parents who don’t want their children to wear the face coverings.

Officials in both Nassau and Suffolk counties have chosen to not aggressively enforce the mask mandate, in stark contrast to New York City, which also requires proof of vaccination to eat inside restaurants, as well as for indoor public events such as movies and concerts.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has said the timeline for ending the mandate for schools could be linked to an increase in vaccination rates among children.

"I would love to see that trend of younger children more vaccinated as we start making decisions about schools," Hochul said during a news briefing last week. "That’s something we get asked a lot about, when are masks coming off in schools."

According to CDC figures for the state, just 30% of children between the ages of 5 and 11 have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and 70% of young people between the ages of 12 and 17 have completed their vaccine series.

Kwon urged people to follow COVID-19 protocols even with the number of cases decreasing.

"I do think people tend to get more relaxed when we see the numbers go down," Kwon said. "This has happened before in the past, and I think we need to keep our guard up … even though our knowledge of COVID-19 has evolved, there's obviously variants that have come about and we just don't know what the next one will bring."

The mask study was one of two California-based research papers released by the CDC on Friday.

The other report examined adults hospitalized with COVID-19 during both the delta and omicron waves at one hospital. Researchers found patients hospitalized during the omicron wave had less serious illness, mostly due to an increased number of people who were vaccinated

The state reported 5,680 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, including 396 in Nassau County and 392 in Suffolk County.

"The trends continue to be promising, but it is important we continue to be vigilant so we can keep positivity rates low," Hochul said in a statement. "If you haven't, get vaccinated and get your booster as soon as possible, it is our best weapon against this virus."

An additional 68 people in New York died from COVID-19 Saturday, including seven in Nassau and four in Suffolk.

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