Are cloth masks sufficient to protect against Omicron? – Cleveland Clinic
At this point in the pandemic, you probably have around 20 face masks hanging near your front door at any given time. But with the omicron variant raging in the United States, you might be wondering: are your favorite sheet masks enough to protect you?
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We spoke to infectious disease expert Steven Gordon, MD, about the mask protocol and best practices amid an increase in another worrisome variant.
Why? Because omicron is super contagious
We have known for some time that wearing face masks can block the to exhale virus particles in the air around you, which helps prevent the virus from spreading. And of course, masks are also a useful barrier when you cough or sneeze.
But cloth masks, which are often made of materials like cotton, do little to protect you from the inhale particles that carry the virus – and with a virus as infectious as the omicron, that becomes a problem.
âEssentially, interactions that previously wouldn’t have resulted in infection are now making people sick,â says Dr. Gordon. “Researchers are still determining exactly how much more infectious the omicron is than its predecessors, but at this point it’s clear that the omicron is indeed more infectious, which means we all need to take additional precautions. “
This includes practicing mask hygiene and maintaining social distancing. It can also mean rethinking your favorite face masks.
Which face mask is best against omicron?
To give you the best shot against omicron, upgrade your sheet masks and instead choose a high filtration mask that fits your face perfectly.
âYou really want to be sure that you create a seal around your nose and your mouth, which is the most effective for your safety,â says Dr. Gordon.
These masks, which are used in healthcare facilities, fit very close to your face, with an adjustable metal seal on the front.
They are particularly effective at filtering air, filtering out about 95% of airborne particles. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) shares a list of approved makes and models, but don’t buy yours right away.
“The CDC still recommends that N95s be a priority for healthcare workers, as they have been in short supply since the start of the pandemic,” said Dr Gordon. âSo if you don’t work in a healthcare facility, it’s best to leave those masks to those who do. “
These masks are also designed to fit close to your face, forming a small tent over your mouth and nose that makes it easier to breathe while you are wearing them.
They too filter about 95% of airborne particles, but they are not regulated by NIOSH; rather, they are regulated by the Chinese government.
KF94s are similar to KN95s in appearance and fit, filtering out approximately 94% of airborne particles. They are regulated by the Korean government, not by NIOSH.
What to know about counterfeit masks
Disclaimer: About 60% of KN95 respirators are fake, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shares an ever-growing list of brands selling counterfeit masks, along with detailed details on how to make sure you have them. buy one that is approved by the US, Chinese, or Korean government.
âIt’s really better to find a mask approved by a regulatory body,â says Dr. Gordon, âBut the truth is that at the end of the day, any mask that fits tightly to the face is better than a mask that not. That means a counterfeit KN95 may always be a safer choice than those flimsy rectangular surgical masks or (sorry) your favorite patterned fabric masks.
Moral of the story? With omicron rapidly spreading across the United States and beyond, it’s time to rethink your current masks and, if possible, move on to the more fitted ones.