Replace your fabric mask with N95 masks to protect against Omicron

  • The CDC urges Americans to increase their mask play against the Omicron variant.
  • The agency says the best mask for you is the one that suits you well (covers both nose and mouth) and that you will wear consistently.
  • But these new guidelines mark the first time the CDC has recognized that it may be wise for anyone – even non-medical workers – to use NIOSH-approved N95s, the gold standard in virus protection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging Americans to increase their mask play against the highly transferable Omicron variant.

The public health agency still claims that “any mask is better than no mask,” and the best face mask is one that suits you well and you will wear consistently.

But in light of a more contagious coronavirus variant, the CDC released a new mask guide Friday night, stressing that it is perfectly OK, and in fact preferable now, to use N95 masks approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). protect yourself from the virus even if you are not a healthcare professional.

“While all masks and respirators provide a certain level of protection, properly fitted respirators provide the highest level of protection,” reads the new guide released Friday night.

High-quality, well-adapted medical masks stop the spread of the virus almost perfectly, making them an important tool for preventing infections, deaths and also the rise of new varieties. N95s, when properly made and worn, filter at least 95% of the particles in the air. The Danish Environmental Protection Agency estimates their installed filtration efficiency at 98.4%.

Loose fabric masks provide the worst protection, while well-fitting N95 is best

surgical mask dangling from the rearview mirror

“N95s offer the highest level of protection” against coronavirus, the CDC said Friday.

Mark Rightmire / MediaNews Group / Orange County Register via Getty Images


The new guide marks a major shift in mask counseling for the general public. Since the early days of the pandemic, the CDC had urged lay people who were not at the forefront of the pandemic’s response to refrain from using N95 respirators and requested that these highly effective masks be stored for medical personnel.

But now that many high-quality masks made from medical-grade materials are available to consumers, there is no reason why people should feel bad about using them to protect themselves and their families from getting sick.

“Respirators are designed to protect you by filtering the air and fitting close to your face to filter out particles, including the virus that causes COVID-19,” explains CDC’s new guide, which provides a hierarchical framework for thinking about how much protection your mask provides.

Here is the 4-step system that the agency uses to explain how to think about how good your mask is:

  • Loosely woven fabric products provide the least protection
  • Layered fine woven products provide more protection,
  • Well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN95s provide even more protection
  • Well-fitting NIOSH-approved respirators (including N95s) provide the highest level of protection.
  • The CDC still says it is specially labeled surgical N95 respirator – a special subtype of N95 that provides additional protection against biological hazards such as blood “should be reserved for use by healthcare professionals.”

“Whichever product you choose, it should provide a good fit (ie sit close to the face without holes along the edges or around the nose) and be comfortable enough when worn properly (cover your nose and mouth) so
that you can keep it on when you need it, “the CDC also said in the new guide.

But beware of counterfeit products that claim to be NIOSH approved when they are not.

“The CDC continues to recommend that any mask is better than no mask,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters on Wednesday when asked during a briefing on updating mask instructions. “We urge all Americans to wear a snug-fitting mask to protect themselves and prevent the spread of COVID-19, and that recommendation will not change.”

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