Why Cloth Masks Might Not Be Enough as Omicron Spreads

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As new COVID-19 variants rise, doctors recommend doubling down or trying out N95 masks

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Mayo Clinic began Thursday requiring all patients and visitors to wear a surgical mask or an N95 or KN95 mask. Anyone wearing a single-layer, homemade cloth mask, gaiter or bandana, or a mask with a vent will be provided with a medical-grade mask to wear it.

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Single-layer cloth masks, which many people prefer for comfort and style, can block large droplets carrying the virus, but can prevent smaller aerosols or virus-carrying particles, according to infectious-disease experts. are not as effective.

The most recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people wear masks, including ones that are multilayered and tightly woven, that fit comfortably and have an adjustable wire nose bridge. It also suggests wearing masks, using disposable masks under cloth masks and reserving N95 masks for healthcare workers.

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But many professionals in the field say that some masks are more effective than others at protecting people from the micron version and cloth masks alone are not.

“If you really want no exposure, you have to wear the right kind of mask,” says Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Gandhi recommends certified N95 masks in the US or KN95, KF94 and FFP2 masks, which are certified in China, South Korea and Europe respectively. If those aren’t available, she recommends double masking—a multilayered cloth mask tightly over a surgical mask. Surgical masks are made of polypropylene, which has electrostatic charge characteristics that block viruses.

“It won’t matter if everyone is wearing just a cloth mask or just a surgical mask,” she says with this highly transmissible variant, she says.

Others in the field say high-quality surgical masks, when worn properly, offer protection, but they would also like more data and research about how they stack up against omicrons.

N95 masks, which are certified by the US National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, have a denser network of fibers than surgical or cloth masks. That tight mesh, along with the electrostatic charge in the material, generally makes such masks the most efficient at trapping larger droplets and aerosols that are inhaled by the wearer. They also better block such particles from being inhaled.

Properly fitted, certified N95 masks can filter out 95% of the particles in the air.

“Any mask is better than no mask. But cloth masks and then surgical masks are not as good as N95-caliber masks,” says Ranu Dhillon, a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Megan Srinivas, a physician and infectious disease specialist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says she and other family members wear KN95 masks, which have five layers of overlapping material and to minimize droplets from escaping or entering Has a tight fit. She will recommend masks that come in baby sizes to parents preparing to send their kids to school in the new year. If they are not available, she suggests disposable authorized surgical masks.

“We need to educate the public and say that different quality masks provide different protection,” she says.

Any quality mask that provides an effective seal and is worn correctly—covers the nose and mouth—provides protection, says Graham Snyder, MD, medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Is.

Dr. Sinder says he wants data from the CDC on how omicrons are transmitted and whether transmission is related to the type of mask. He is concerned about the number of people in the community who do not wear any kind of mask.

“Masking works. Period,” he says.

Write Clare Ansberry at [email protected] and Nidhi Subbaraman at [email protected]

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