Amid the sharp rise of Omicron cases across the globe, medical experts suggest a “mask upgrade” and ditching cloth face masks for high-quality N95, KN95, and FFP2 masks that offer more protection against the highly transmissible Delta and Omicron variants.
“To counter the threat of Omicron, which is very transmittable, everyone should wear N95 masks. No other mask should be allowed in public places. This is now the rule in Germany and other developed countries. N95 masks are cheapest in India,” Pulmonologist, Dr Rajesh Swarnakar, told The Times of India.
However, not all masks offer the same protection and while the widely used cloth masks seem like an attractive and cheaper option, they usually don’t work well against the virus.
Apart from choosing the right well-fitting mask, it is also important to wear it properly in a way that it covers the entire nose, mouth, and the area below the chin for maximum protection. One should check the mask for any damage before wearing it and avoid touching the outside of the mask, and any part of the face, when outdoors, at all costs.
Experts also advise against lowering one’s mask when speaking to someone. “Kindly ensure the fit of the mask is right and there is no leakage of air from any side. Using a double mask can definitely increase the protection against the infection. Even though face masks do not provide 100 percent protection, a correctly used face mask does provide significant protection against the spread of covid infections,” said Director – Internal Medicine, Fortis Hospital Shalimar Bagh, Dr Vineeta Taneja, to The Hindustan Times.
Why are cloth masks not enough?
Most cloth masks do not follow any standard safety procedures and are often made of single-layer material that doesn’t offer much protection compared to N95 masks.
Researcher Lindsey Marr from Virginia Tech, USA, speaking to the National Public Radio (NPR) said that cloth masks act as a basic filter and may not work against the highly contagious Omicron variant which has been seen to multiply 70 times faster inside the human respiratory tract than previous variants like Delta.
This means that while a person requires only a few particles of Omicron to get infected, they exhale more amounts of the virus which explains the highly transmissible nature of the variant.
Surgical masks on the other hand provide some amount of particle filtration but most of them don’t fit well. Since inhaling just a few particles of Omicron can lead to an infection, it’s important to choose not only the right material in masks but also the right fit. In contrast, N95 and KN95 masks give a tighter fit.
However, it is essential to keep in mind that a large quantity of inferior quality or untested masks is available in the market. One must avoid purchasing unsealed or unpackaged masks and make sure to check the approval ratings of the mask before buying them.