Why upgraded masks could offer upgraded protection against COVID

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Is your face mask offering enough protection?

The CDC is now recommending people opt for the N95 or KN95 masks over cloth masks to fight off the highly contagious omicron variant.

This has many people questioning how effective masks are and wondering if they should be upgrading.

“This variant is significantly more infectious, and it is more airborne,” Dr. Manoj Jain, who oversees the COVID task force in Shelby County said.

By now, most people are familiar with the common types of face masks.

KN95 and N95 masks offer the most protection against COVID-19. A step below those are surgical masks, and cloth masks offer the least amount of protection.

“It just doesn’t have the level of layers that the other ones do, especially the KN95s and 95s,” Dr. Jain said. “They’ll stop large droplets, but the smaller ones are not stopped by those masks.”

Because of how quickly the omicron variant spreads, Dr. Steve Threlkeld, an infectious disease specialist in Memphis, said it’s better to wear a mask with higher protection if you have it.

But he said some protection is better than none at all.

“I think it’s better to wear a single-ply cloth mask than to wear nothing,” Dr. Threlkeld said.

With any mask, Dr. Threlkeld said the most important thing you can do is wear it correctly.

“If someone is going to take their KN95 and have it around their chin or their nose, that’s not going to be helpful either,” he said. “So properly wearing a snugly well-fitted mask is by far going to be the most important factor.”

To make protective masks more available, the Biden administration is in the process of shipping millions of free N95 masks to distribution sites nationwide.

You can also find these types of masks online at retailers such as Amazon.