Early in the pandemic, cloth masks were the preferred protective gear due to the lack of high-quality materials. Back in 2020, I wrote about the weak filtering capacity of these items and, indeed, it appears that cloth masks are just north of useless when it comes to preventing infection with SARS-CoV2, especially the ultra-contagious omicron variant.
Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sometimes known as the Center for Mask Mandates, has updated its guidance. They now admit that loosely woven cloth masks offer the least protection against COVID-19 and compare poorly with N95 and even KN95 masks. “Loosely woven cloth products provide the least protection, layered finely woven products offer more protection, well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN95s offer even more protection, and well- fitting NIOSH-approved respirators (including N95s) offer the highest level of protection,” the CDC says.
That means that millions of you are walking around with masks on your face that do little to prevent infection.
(Aside: England has recently eliminated its mask mandates throughout the country)
I wrote as much in 2020, when I felt that wearing a mask was situational, not a full-time job, and also when I said that if you’re going to wear them, wear N95s. At the same time that the CDC said the average citizen could expose themselves by caring for contagious mild-moderate COVID cases at home, they also made it nearly impossible to get the type of mask that would make it least likely that you would get sick too. This effectively made my advice a good idea, but a pipe dream.
Today, the increased availability of N95 masks (you can get some here) makes it easier to protect yourself from getting the infection. In these mask-weary times, however, people are getting sick and tired of wearing masks at all (including Amy and myself)! Is the CDC’s recent guidance too late?
Some are even suggesting that it might be best for everyone to get the virus and get to herd immunity once and for all. Instead of making the tough decision of discontinuing mask mandates, however, many states are still promoting a culture of fear. This is not only unnecessary but damaging to many young people, including those at least risk for getting severely ill.
Of course, not wearing masks might mean a bad outcome for some people who can’t avoid being indoors with large numbers of people. Several of our friends, vaccinated and unvaccinated, have ended up in the hospital in recent months. Many more, however, probably had the infection and never even knew it.
Double masking? Triple masking? With better-quality N95s around, these seem to be almost ridiculously excessive.
It’s almost certain that COVID-19 is going endemic and will be around long-term. leading the government to continue to recommend masks. Certainly, some young, healthy people will remain in a state of apprehension about the virus. If you choose to wear them, wear the ones that fit snugly and actually make a difference. When placed properly, N95 or KN95 masks should fit closely on the face without gaps and be comfortable.
Me? I’m pushing 70 and have more medical issues than I can count on my fingers so, yeah, I’m wearing an N95 whenever I’m in a crowd indoors. You? Do your own research and come to your own decision.
Joe Alton MD
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