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Mask Guidance Update: Changes Since the Omicron Variant's Discovery

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been increasingly worrisome as it spreads rapidly, increasing cases of COVID-19 worldwide. The variant’s emergence was reported to the WHO on 24 November 2021, and, as of 20 December 2021, has been detected in most states and territories of the US. It is now the dominant variant in the US. Not much is known with certainty about the novel variant, but it will spread more easily than the original COVID-19 strain, and can spread to individuals vaccinated. Vaccines continue to be successful in preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death, emphasizing the importance of vaccines and boosters.


While previous mask guidelines stated cloth masks were acceptable, experts are stating, once more, that cloth masks are little more than facial decorations; they do not provide adequate protection from infection. While scientists and public officials have stated this for months, the surge in COVID-19 cases is giving more weight to this advice. The wearing of at least a three-ply surgical mask-- a disposable mask, commonly found in drugstores-- is recommended. Donning a cloth mask on top of this one is suitable, but the cloth mask alone is ineffective. A KN95 or N95 mask remains the most ideal choice for crowded areas.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the wearing of N95 masks by the general public was discouraged to allow medical professionals to access them, but there is no issue of shortage now. Thus, it is imperative people use the best possible mask available to them.

COVID-19 is an airborne virus. Unlike influenza, a hybrid virus-- which can be spread through droplets, inhaled, or on surfaces-- COVID-19 appears to be spread by shared air. While cloth masks can filter droplets, smaller gas particles cannot be filtered out the way a more effective mask, such as a N95, can. Additionally, cloth masks have a 75% inward and outward leakage: a significant number of particles make it through the mask, and a significant number of particles make it out of the mask. However, experts still recommend wearing a cloth mask if a superior alternative is not available, and avoiding crowded areas to minimize the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible.



List of Approved N95 Respirators: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npptl/topics/respirators/disp_part/n95list1.html


Determining if a N95 Respirator is Counterfeit: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npptl/usernotices/counterfeitResp.html


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