Omicron Has Turned Cloth Masks Into “Little More Than Face Decorations”

Experts are sounding the alarm: cloth masks will not be enough to stop Omicron. It's time to upgrade.

a fabric yellow mask
Totsapron Jindarat / EyeEm/Getty

As the Omicron variant sweeps across the nation, health experts are sounding the alarm: it’s time to ditch cotton and fabric masks and upgrade to stronger, more heavy-duty face coverings, like N95, KN95, and KF94 masks.

At an event at George Washington University, Dr. Leana Wen said that “Cloth masks are little more than face decorations. There’s no place for them in light of Omicron,” per PEOPLE Magazine.

She added that, at minimum, we should all be wearing “at least a three-ply surgical mask,” and that cloth masks on top of surgical masks can add extra protection. Other health experts have echoed Dr. Wen’s findings and suggested that, though cloth masks are better than being bare-faced, they are certainly not adequate protection against Omicron.

To wit, studies have shown that N95 masks are effective at filtering not just large droplets, but also smaller droplets and aerosols in which COVID-19 is transmitted. Cloth masks do filter large droplets but are not as powerful at stopping fine droplets. While multi-layered fabric masks block “50 to 70 percent of fine droplets and particulates,” per MarketWatch, N95s are 95 percent effective. In the case of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, it appears that fabric masks are just not enough protection against the virus.

And while there is broad consensus that a cloth mask “is better than no mask,” KN95s, N95s, and KF94 masks are all much more effective at limiting the spread of COVID-19 than cloth masks.

In the meantime, as COVID-19 cases rise and variants continue to mutate and become more contagious, make sure you upgrade your masks for you and the kids. In a winter where COVID-19 breakthrough cases are very possible for the fully vaccinated and boosted, upgrading your mask is one of the few most important things you can do besides being vaccinated and keeping socially distanced in order to decrease your risk of getting COVID-19.

If you don’t have any N95, KN95, or KF94 masks lying around, the good news is that, unlike early in the pandemic, there are plenty of masks for sale.

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