CDC Updates Guidance on Face Masks

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is providing clarity on what masks people should wear to best protect themselves.

N95s and similar high-filtration respirators offer the best protection against COVID-19, according to the CDC, while cloth masks provide the least protection.

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Dr. Irfan Hafiz, infectious disease specialist and chief medical officer of Northwestern Medicine McHenry, Huntley and Woodstock Hospitals, discusses the CDC’s new guidance.

Below, an interview with Hafiz.

What exactly does the CDC say with this new guidance on masks?

The take-home point here is that the omicron spread is very serious, infectivity that we’re seeing is quite a bit. Therefore, the initial recommendations of just using purely a cloth mask are probably not sufficient, especially when we’re seeing this amount of infectivity. And that’s why the guidance can really push people away from cloth masks to multi-layer masks or masks with better filtration, like surgical masks, or even going all the way up to N95 masks.

Why are N95 seen as the gold standard of masks?

We’ve been using them for decades. They are designed to remove 95% of particulate material from the air that you’re inhaling. We’ve used them for a long time for tuberculosis, other airborne illnesses as well, so we know they’re very efficient.

Is there a nationwide shortage of N95 masks? Or do you just need to know where to look?

There is a supply constraint around the N95s. They are in more limited supply. Plus, we’re trying to use a lot of these (in) hospitals where they’re most needed as well to protect our health care workers. There might be bad actors trying to sell the masks.

How can a consumer differentiate between a legitimate N95 or respirator mask and one that isn’t?

You do want to look for certification: NIOSH certification on the boxes. It’s usually imprinted on the masks themselves. There are some reports that up to 60% of KN95 mass don’t meet standards so that is something to be wary of.

What is the best way to reuse N95 masks?

When we do have constraints in supply, reuse of the surgical mask and N95 can be done if they’re done properly. You don’t want to be touching them constantly throughout the day. At the end of the day, take them off, put them in a brown paper like a lunch bag. That is something that can be done and you can use them for a few days. Once the mask surface becomes either worn or torn or wet, definitely cannot use them at that point and you must use a new mask at that point. 

Interview has been condensed and edited.

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