Report: CDC eyes recommending higher quality masks; southwest Virginia health officials weigh in

Coronavirus

Protective N-95 face masks lie on a table at an office in Washington, D.C., February 26, 2020. (Eva Hambach / AFP / Getty)

(The Hill/WFXR) — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is looking at recommending that Americans wear higher quality masks amid the omicron surge, a CDC official told The Washington Post.

“The agency is currently actively looking to update its recommendations for KN95 and N95 in light of omicron,” said the official, who asked not to be named. “We know these masks provide better filtration.”

However, as the higher quality masks have been known to be uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time, the CDC would say in new guidance that if a person can “tolerate wearing a KN95 or N95 mask all day, you should,” according to the Post.

Virginia Tech researcher Linsey Marr, who studies how viruses travel through the air, says based on her research she supports the increased use of high-quality masks like N95s and KN95’s.

“While a simple cloth mask might provide 20 percent protection, a high-performance mask can achieve 90 percent protection or better,” said Dr. Marr.

However, in Dr. Marr’s 2020 research study, she demonstrated that a three-layer mask is better than nothing.

“It’s still true that any mask is better than no mask, yet there is huge variability in the effectiveness of different kinds of masks,” said Dr. Marr.

In an interview, The Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts’ director, Dr. Cynthia Morrow, says upgrading your mask is the best way to protect yourself. That goes for cloth masks, as well.

“I think that what is the most important thing is having at least three layers. There is a saying that if you can hold it up and can see light through it, then it is not ideal,” said Morrow.

Morrow says she would rather see someone wearing a properly fitted three-layers cloth mask, than a K-N95 mask that is falling off of people’s noses.

The CDC was wary of recommending that people wear N95 or KN95 masks at the beginning of the pandemic due to concerns that doing so would cause a shortage of those masks for health care workers, per the outlet.

Americans would have to be careful about which higher quality masks they obtain, as the CDC has said 60 percent of the KN95 masks in the U.S. are fake, the Post noted. 

The updated recommendation comes as the spread of the omicron variant has driven a renewed spike in COVID-19 cases, with early studies showing that the variant is more transmissible and more able to evade immunity gained from vaccines than past strains of the virus.

The U.S. on Tuesday, Jan. 11 broke its COVID-19 hospitalization record after individual states such as New York and Florida recently broke their daily COVID-19 case records. 

The Hill has reached out to the CDC for comment.

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