As the Omicron surge continues across the country, experts recommend upgrading your face mask. If you are relying on a homemade or cloth face covering, it might be time to reconsider.
"The idea of face coverings is really old-fashioned. Quite honestly, it was not even good enough for the original virus," said Dr. Paulo Verardi, an associate professor of virology and vaccinology at the University of Connecticut. "It was the best we could do at the time. It was better than not wearing anything."
Nearly two years into the pandemic, with a greater supply of medical masks and a highly transmissible variant, Verardi stresses that there are better options now. He says the N95 respirator offers the most protection.
According to the CDC, the N95 mask filters 95% of particles.
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"Not all masks are made the same," said Verardi. "If you really want to be protected, the N95s, the respirators, are the ones that you want."
In the beginning of the pandemic, people were asked to avoid buying N95 masks so that healthcare workers could access them.
"It was just because we didn't have enough of them," said Verardi. "These masks are much more available now. There are different versions of them made in different places."
The state of Connecticut will soon be handing out six million N95 masks for free.
According to Verardi, surgical or medical masks also offer strong protection. A KN95 is a good option as well.
"That's because they have special properties that trap those tiny particles," said Verardi.
The Omicron variant spreads more easily than any other variant, making masks even more important.
"Because it is replicated mostly in the upper respiratory tract, maybe it is producing more aerosols - those tiny little particles that we can't see and that masks can filter out when we are breathing," said Verardi.
No matter what mask you end up wearing, though, it has to be worn correctly to work. The mask should cover the nose and mouth. It also has to fit properly, with no large gaps on the sides.
More guidance on masks can be found here. For more tips on how to spot a counterfeit respirator, click here.