Cloth masks do not protect against viruses as effectively as others, says the CDC

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention clarified its position on various types of masks on Friday, recognizing that cloth masks that Americans often wear do not offer the same protection as surgical masks or respirators.

Although this difference is widely known to the general public, the update is the first time the CDC has explicitly addressed the differences. The agency’s website also no longer mentions a shortage of respirators.

The change comes as infections with the highly contagious variant of Omicron continue to rise. Some experts said that cloth masks were insufficient to protect against this variant, and urged the CDC to recommend respirators to ordinary citizens.

The agency hasn’t gone that far. His updated language now states that “a respirator may be considered in certain situations and by some people when greater protection is needed or desired.”

Previous versions of the recommendation stated that individuals could choose to use the N95 Disposable Respirator instead of a mask, “if supplies are available.”

N95 respirators, so named because they can filter out 95 percent of all airborne particles when used properly, were scarce at the start of a pandemic. At the time, the CDC and the World Health Organization have repeatedly stated that ordinary citizens do not have to wear veils unless they are sick or coughing.

The CDC also said that conventional surgical drapes are an “acceptable alternative” for doctors and nurses interacting with a coronavirus-infected patient – a step that has angered healthcare professionals.

Critics argued that the recommendations were not based on what would best protect Americans, and were instead triggered by a shortage of N95 respirators.

When the CDC eventually recommended masks for ordinary Americans, it emphasized fabric face masks. It took months for the CDC and WHO to admit that the coronavirus could be transmitted by tiny droplets called aerosols, which could remain within an hour.

According to the new description of CDC masks, loosely woven fabric products provide the least protection and layered fine woven products offer more. Well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN95 – another type of respirator mask – are more protected than all fabric masks, and well-fitting respirators, including N95, offer the highest level of protection.

The agency urged Americans to “wear the most protective mask possible, which will fit well and which you will wear consistently.”


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