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“Omicron produces more virus, even than Delta,” William Schaffner, MD, a professor of health policy and infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, previously told Health. This increase in viral load may make it more difficult for a face covering to stop the transmission of COVID-19, making it extra important to wear a proper face mask.
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Per the CDC, this means selecting a face mask made with “at least two layers of washable, breathable fabric” that covers the mouth and nose, has a nose wire, and fits snugly with no gaps. Although these attributes extend to a wide range of options, experts seem to agree that the best face masks for Omicron are not cloth coverings. A 2020 study by the CDC noted that “the filtration effectiveness of cloth masks is generally lower than that of medical masks and respirators.” While it goes on to state that cloth masks “may provide some protection” when well-designed and worn correctly, there are no set guidelines for qualifies as a good design.
Further proof you may want to reconsider wearing a cloth mask on its own? The Federal Drug and Food Administration (FDA) states that although face masks and barriers may prevent the spread of COVID-19 to others, they are “not a substitute for filtering facepiece respirators or surgical masks” when the goal is to limit exposure to respiratory droplets and large particles.
The FDA also states that face masks that offers the most protection against germs are N95 respirators. Along with their Chinese (KN95) or Korean equivalents (KF94), these masks don’t just offer a barrier from spreading your germs, but they actually trap most incoming ones. Plus, they’re also government-regulated to meet strict requirements, which includes providing a set threshold of protection against particles.
Although you’ll feel better about your level of protection with a respirator, it’s extra important to keep an eye out for counterfeit respirators. If you’re worried about accidentally purchasing a fake, you can also increase your mask’s efficiency by double masking. A 2021 study published by the CDC found that layering a disposable surgical mask with a cloth mask increases their ability to block airborne particles by nearly 30% (versus when worn individually).
Ready to maximize your protection against COVID-19? Scroll down to discover the best high-filtration face masks for Omicron that have each been previously vetted by Health.
The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it’s possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.
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