“What we’re recommending right now is to upgrade your mask,” said Dr. Shunling Tsang, Deputy Public Health Officer, Riverside County.
From the beginning of the pandemic, health officials have agreed that mask wearing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Now with the highly contagious and airborne Omicron variant, they say now more than ever, it’s important to mask up, and if you’re going to wear a mask – wear the best mask possible.
“I think it’s worth reminding people why exactly they work so well. It has to do with the actual material,” said Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent. “There are electrostatic charged fibers in here. So it’s not just filtering particles, it’s actually attracting particles kind of like a blanket might attract your socks in the dryer. Also, it works well not just for air that’s potentially coming in, but also for air that’s potentially going out.”
The question is what masks offer the greatest protection? Health officials say N-95 masks are the best option.
“Now, one key thing about the N-95 masks is you have to make sure they actually fit really well, having the two bands around the back of your head and then making sure no air is escaping around your eyes or your cheeks or your chin,” said Dr. Gupta.
Studies have shown that cloth masks can have about 75% leakage, a surgical mask 50%, but with an N-95 mask, leakage can go down to as low as 1%.
Even with the CDC’s updated mask guidance, there’s still no explicit recommendation to wear an N-95. And these high level masks are difficult to come by. But, health officials say wearing any mask is better than not wearing a mask.
“If you can tolerate an N-95, do it. If you want to get a KN-95, fine,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “Wearing any mask is better than no mask at all. But there is a degradation of capability of preventing you from getting infected and from you transmitting it to someone else. So, we should be wearing the best possible masks that we can get.”