With the highly contagious omicron variant still spreading rapidly, many people have put their face masks back on to better protect themselves from coronavirus. We’re here to give a refresher on current face mask recommendations and the different types you can choose from.
Current Face Mask Recommendations
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to recommend masks for the general public. With so many breakthrough cases, even if you’re fully vaccinated and are in an area with a high number of new COVID-19 cases, the CDC recommends wearing a mask indoors in public, outdoors in crowded areas or when you are in close contact with unvaccinated people.
People who haven’t been fully vaccinated are advised to wear face masks indoors and outdoors where there is a high risk of COVID-19 transmission, such as crowded events or large gatherings.
Types of Face Masks
With so many types of face masks out there, which is the best one to protect against the omicron variant? While the CDC will possibly be updating which type best protects you, the most important piece of advice we can give at this time is to choose a face mask that properly fits you and that you will wear and clean it correctly.
That said, here is a breakdown of different face masks so you can choose and wear your best fit.
N95 and KN95 Masks
N95 masks are the U.S. standard for respirator masks, while the KN95 uses the Chinese standards. The 95 in their names means they filter 95% of bacterial and viral invaders (at minimum). They are considered good options to protect against viruses like COVID-19.
There are slight differences between the two in breathability. N95 masks have slightly stronger breathability standards, meaning they have slightly different inhale and exhale pressure standards. While the average person likely won't notice the difference since the standards are so close, people with breathing problems like asthma might benefit a bit more from purchasing N95 respiratory masks.
Surgical masks (typically the blue and white flat masks) are primarily intended to block large droplets. However, experts say they still provide some protection, which is better than none in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. They are primarily designed to protect the field of surgery from bacteria and provide partial protection from viral infections, meaning they lower the chances of contracting a virus, but do not eliminate it.
Cloth masks have been widely used to protect against respiratory infections for a long time. Their use during the COVID-19 pandemic is still under debate. The filtration effectiveness of cloth masks is typically lower than other mask types. But, if used correctly and designed well, they may provide some protection.
Multilayer, water-resistant cloth masks that fit around the face may provide reasonable protection. The higher number of threads and the finer the weave, the better.
Find Your Best Fit
Again, whichever mask type you choose, making sure it fits properly and that you wear it correctly will help protect you. Wearing a mask rather than not wearing one at all will offer protection for you and those around you during the variant surges we’ve been experiencing.
Stay up to date with the ebb and flow of COVID-19 at our Coronavirus Resource Hub.