As new studies appear and updated guidance is issued, health experts broke down the best way to wear a face covering to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Although new evidence shows which could be the most protective masks, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health Dr. Allison Arwady has stressed that “everybody wearing a mask is the most important thing.”
“The biggest jump in protection is from no mask to any mask,” she said.
Chicago’s health commissioner, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health experts, broke down best practices for mask-wearing amid the COVID surge:
KN95 and N95 Masks
KN95 masks, the most widely available high-filtration masks, offer better protection than cloth masks, Arwady noted. The masks are “good to use” when available, she said, but again signified the importance of overall mask use.
The CDPH health commissioner said while she possesses KN95 masks, she doesn’t regularly wear one and may only do so in certain settings involving large crowds.
“When I have put them on, might be like, say I have to pass through an airport or something. There’s going to be a lot of exposure,” she said. “…It’s not the one I choose for everyday use. I’m vaccinated, boosted, etc.”
KN95 masks, as well as N95s, filter out at least 95% of air particles, but N95 masks have stricter pressure drop requirements and are regularly considered the “gold standard” for masking.
N95s are specifically reserved for health care workers, and with a current shortage, are only recommended in such settings.
The main issue with KN95 masks is counterfeiting, as the CDC warns that as many as 60% of the masks on the market are counterfeit.
The CDC’s website does have information on brands and product numbers that are from reputable companies, and they encourage residents to seek out that information before purchasing the coverings.
Health officials do not recommend respirator masks be worn with certain types of facial hair; if it is hard to breath; if it is wet or dirty; or with another mask.
The CDC still recommends cloth masks as a form of face covering to prevent the spread of the virus, and said it should align with the following:
- Fit over your nose and mouth to prevent leaks
- Contain multiple layers of tightly woven, breathable fabric
- Contain a nose wire
- Use fabric that blocks light when held up to a light source
Health officials stressed that cloth masks should not contain gaps around the sides of the face, exhalation valves or a single layer of thin fabric.
For additional protection, the CDC said people can wear a disposable mask underneath a cloth mask that has multiple layers of fabric. This way of wearing a mask may be a better fit for those with a beard.
Arwady previously said that while double-masking is a good way to provide “excellent protection,” she too stressed the importance of having a mask that properly fits.
“If you’ve got gaps, you can have droplets leaking out. We’ve been recommending wearing one of the surgical masks with a cloth mask over it,” she said. “That’s a good way to have excellent protection. If you’re wearing KN95 and the KN94’s, go for it.”
Gaiters, Face Shields and Scarves
The CDC added that a gaiter can be worn as a mask with two layers or folded to make two layers. Face shields are not officially recommended, however, as the efficacy is unknown at this time.
For those in cold weather, such as in Chicago, federal officials recommend wearing a scarf, ski mask or balaclava over a face covering. These clothing items are not substitutes for masks, though.
Health officials recommend cleaning reusable cloth masks “as soon as they become dirty” or at least once per day.
Disposable masks should be thrown away after one use, according to the CDC.