While noting some form of face mask is better than none at all, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its COVID-19 mask guidance to call for the use of specialized filtering masks to protect against catching the virus.
Friday’s announcement recommends National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) approved respirator masks such as the N95, which also happen to be among the most expensive to purchase, to provide the highest level of protection, followed by well-fitting surgical masks and KN95s, and “layered finely woven products.”
CDC explained that properly worn respirator masks that seal to the face offer the best filtration and when worn properly provide a higher level of protection than a cloth or surgical mask. Respirators also should be used by employees who interact with large numbers of the public, especially when mask use is not consistent. CDC cited bus drivers as an example.
Respirators are also recommended for use by anyone who is unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated. But CDC cautioned that N95 masks are typically designed for adults and use in workplaces, and there have been no tests so far for broad use by children.
Loosely woven cloth masks provide the least amount of protection, CDC added. The agency also advised that 60 percent of KN95 masks evaluated by NIOSH in the last two years did not meet their claims.
Meanwhile, surgical N95 masks should be reserved for healthcare settings.
The announcement also shared new standards that indicate when masks are designed and tested to ensure they meet consistent levels of performance. These include ASTM 3502 to reduce the number of expelled droplets and aerosols from the wearer’s nose or mouth and “potentially offer a degree of particulate filtration, and masks that meet standard and enhanced workplace performance.”
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The agency also advised that whatever mask is worn, it should provide a good fit and not result in any gaps along the edges or around the nose, “and be comfortable enough when worn properly (covering your nose and mouth) so that you can keep it on when you need to.” CDC noted that gaps in masks can allow air with respiratory droplets to leak, and it urged caution to select proper fitting masks with facial hair.
CDC also recommends not wearing masks that meet standards when they make breathing difficult, are wet or dirty, with other masks or respirators, or instead of NIOSH-approved respirators required for a job.