As Omicron variant spreads, here's why you need to upgrade your mask - Coronavirus Outbreak News

2021-12-25 06:09:45 By : Ms. Carmen Sun

As the world faces a surge in cases of the highly contagious Omicron variant of coronavirus, health experts have recommended against the use of single-layer cloth face masks as protection from the virus.

During the initial wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, health authorities discouraged the general public from using N95 masks since medical professionals were facing a shortage of personal protection equipment. The use of cloth masks was encouraged as they were cost-effective and reusable.

However, in view of the highly contagious Omicron variant, experts have suggested using N95 or K95 masks as they are not in short supply for now. Follow Omicron in India LIVE Updates

"Cloth masks are little more than facial decorations. There's no place for them in light of Omicron," Dr Leana Wen, an visiting professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health in the US, was quoted by CNN.

"This is what scientists and public health officials have been saying for months, many months, in fact," Dr Wen added.

Dr Wen said at least a three-ply surgical mask should be used for protection against the virus. These disposable masks are easily available at the local medical stores.

"You can wear a cloth mask on top of that, but do not just wear a cloth mask alone," Dr Wen told CNN.

Dr Wen recommended the use of KN95 or N95 masks as they better prevent tiny particles from getting into nose or mouth. These masks, however, must be fitted to the face to function properly.

Read | More states bring in Covid-19 curbs ahead of New Year amid Omicron threat

While cloth masks can filter large droplets, N95s or K95 masks can filter both large droplets and smaller particles potentially laden with airborne virus if infected people are present, said Erin Bromage, an associate professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

According to the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists, a cloth mask has a 75 per cent inward and outward leakage. On the other hand, the N95 masks that are approved by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health can filter up to 95 per cent of particles in the air, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC).

Despite this, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest guidance recommends people to avoid N95 masks and prefer masks with two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric.

"If we're going to go as far as to say that masks are required -- when we don't come from a mask-wearing culture and people don't like wearing masks -- at least recommend that they wear the most effective mask," Dr Wen told CNN.

Dr Wen added that countries such as Germany and Austria have "switched their standards to say that a face covering in public must be at least a medical-grade surgical mask".

Also Read | Vaccines, pills and data offer some Christmas cheer in face of Omicron advance

Also Read | Covid ‘airborne’: Use N95 or KN95 masks, keep alternating every 24 hours, says Infectious Diseases expert

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