PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — For nearly two years, any mask was said to be better than none, but in recent weeks experts have been saying cloth ones aren’t as effective.
The omicron variant-powered surge has led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to consider updating its mask guidance to recommend that people opt for the highly protective N95 or KN95 masks.
Health experts have called the cloth masks at this point “facial decorations.”
The CDC says if you wear a cloth mask, COVID transmission takes 20 minutes if you’re within 6-feet of someone who is contagious and unmasked.
With an N95 mask, the transmission time is increased to 2.5 hours.
The N95 mask also filters up to 95% of particles in the air when approved by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and is properly worn, according to the CDC.
Virginia Tech Environmental Engineering Professor Dr. Linsey Marr explained that the possible change is due in part to the fact that the omicron variant is much more contagious than previous variants.
“Typical cloth mask might be 50% effective and that was OK before. It doesn’t seem to be enough with omicron. N95 offers much greater protection,” Marr said.
The CDC has warned that about 60% of imported KN95s to the United States are counterfeit, but there are U.S. firms that make KN95s of high quality.
It’s unclear when the CDC could be making its recommendation.