The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not changed its guidance on mask usage, but the Biden administration is “strongly considering” making higher quality masks, like N95 and KN95 masks, more available to Americans.
The consideration comes as some experts warn Americans should be wearing those types of masks instead of cloth or surgical masks to avoid the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
The pandemic has entered a new phase, top health officials now say, with Biden medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci warning Tuesday the highly contagious Omicron variant will “find just about everybody,” though those who are vaccinated and boosted will fare better against the virus. Amid surging cases and record hospitalizations, however, masks remain the first line of defense against the airborne particle-driven virus.
The CDC, White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters, “recommends Americans wear well-fitting masks. This can include multiple layered cloth masks, N95s, KN95s, or other types. Right now we are strongly considering options to make more high quality masks available to all Americans, and we’ll continue to follow the science here. The CDC is in the lead. But this is an area that we’re actively exploring.”
By having a better fit and certain materials – such as polypropylene fibers – acting as both mechanical and electrostatic barriers, these masks better prevent tiny particles from getting into the nose or mouth and must be fitted to the face to function properly.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky added Wednesday that her agency’s current recommendations to wear a well-fitting mask – N95, KN95, surgical or cloth – would not be changing.
“CDC continues to recommend that any mask is better than no mask. And we do encourage all Americans to wear a well-fitting mask to protect themselves and prevent the spread of Covid-19. And that recommendation is not going to change,” she said.
She added that the CDC is planning to update mask guidance on its website to explain the different types of masks and protection.
“We are preparing an update to the information on our mask website to best reflect the options that are available to people … and the different levels of protection different masks provide. And we want to provide Americans the best and most updated information to choose what mask is going to be right for them,” she said.
Walensky was later pressed on why that guidance would not change, given that scientists know some masks provide better protection than others.
“The best mask that you wear is the one that you will wear and the one you can keep on all day long, that you can tolerate in public indoor settings, and tolerate where you need to wear it. We will provide information on improved filtration that occurs with other masks such as N95s, and information that the public needs about how to make a choice of which mask is the right one for them. But most importantly, we want to highlight that the best mask for you as a one that you can wear comfortably,” she said.