CDC Mask Guidance To Possibly Change Amidst Omicron Variant
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is strongly considering updating its mask guidance and appropriate personal protective equipment. As reported in the news, the CDC is on the verge of recommending U.S. citizens to opt for N95 and KN95 masks which are worn by healthcare professionals.
Personal protective equipment or fabric masks, which do not meet the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), are used by many within the population and cause additional risks.
Due to the highly transmissible omicron variant seeing a sharp rise in infections, health experts are now calling on the Biden administration to recommend better-quality masks as previously recommended by the CDC.
An Airborne Virus Requires Proper Filtration
To protect against COVID, an airborne virus, the importance of masking cannot be underscored. With rising Omicron infections, cloth coverings are no longer effective in the protection against an airborne virus. With this, it is now more than ever important to underscore the importance of N95 and KN95 masking.
A U.S. National Library of Medicine report states that the main routes of transmission between humans are aerosols and droplets. When an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks, the virus is excreted and dissolved droplets or aerosols can remain and travel in the air.
The report goes on to state that KN95 and N95 masks and respirators protect individuals against these viral aerosols and droplets. They have at least 95% filtration efficiency for NaCl particles sized 0.1–0.3 μm with even higher filtration efficiency at higher particle size.
Filtration efficiency is due to the KN95 respirators’ supplementary layer between the inner layers and the filter layer. The supplementary layer, or ‘cotton layer’ fills 70% of the respirator and boasts a core-shell structure made of 95% cellulose and 0.6% natural wax. The filter layer’s dipole charge density is eight times higher than other layers and plays an important role in filtration.
Further to this, filter layers in both N95 and KN95 respirators play an important role in mechanical and electrostatic filtration. This is not seen in fabric, cotton, polyester, and surgical masks which are accessible, and highly used, by the public.
Concerns Over New Mask Guidance And Recommendations
While health officials and the CDC continue to work on new guidance and have done it for some weeks, updated guidance and recommendation completion go hand in hand with the government’s analysis of the mask supply chain.
This has created concerns regarding the number of approved masks in the national stockpile and the availability of such masks to the public.
While it is hoped that new legislation will be introduced that sees N95 masks sent to every household in the U.S. as reported by news, December 2021’s stockpile only saw 747 million N95 masks and with this the lack of approved masks for every household.
Apart from the stockpile and availability concerns, the CDC has warned that 60 percent of imported KN95 masks in the country are counterfeit. U.S. citizens are advised to ensure their mask purchase is not of a counterfeit one.
How To Tell If Your Mask Is Counterfeit
If N95 masks are approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, they will filter up to 95 percent of particles, according to the CDC. Those approved are made by U.S. firms that make KN95s of high quality. With this, citizens are advised to ensure they purchase the correct mask type from reputable firms.
As a news source states, to spot a counterfeit N95 mask or check the efficacy of one, is to look at the edges of the mask and then assess whether or not they actually form a seal around the nose and mouth.
Should an individual find the mask loose-fitting, chances are that it is a surgical or cloth mask. Counterfeit N95 masks do not allow air to pass through due to the seal it creates. Other things to check that identify the mask as counterfeit:
- Missing American Standard Certification called 42 CFR 84.
- If the mask has logos or design material on it. This means it is not authentic.
- Lack of NIOSH logo on it
- Lack of facepiece respirator and earloops instead of headbands
What Will The Updated Guidance Mean For U.S. Citizens?
When the new mask guidance comes into play, U.S. citizens will have to adhere to the following:
- N95 or KN95 masks are to be worn consistently and correctly.
- Recommended masks with layers of breathable fabric and a wire bridge around the nose are those used in healthcare and industrial settings
- Masks are to be individually fitted and are to fit snugly. This follows research done on the role of a good fit in rendering protective equipment useful
- While considered not the most comfortable option, toleration of wearing a KN95 or N95 all day should be made
- N95 masks should no longer only be prioritized for healthcare workers but for all U.S. citizens
- Mask policies should be adhered to, to ensure the wearing of high-quality masks to reduce the spread of COVID.
Should new mask guidance be put into place, this will save lives and reduce health care costs as academic studies on the effectiveness of filtration reveal. However, to do this, the government should make high-quality masks more available and required.
Already, with the U.S. Capitol, House staff have been provided with KN95 masks, with some state and local officials already upgrading their masks. In Milwaukee, the health department has handed over half-million free N95 masks at testing and vaccination sites and public libraries. In Connecticut, the state has plans to distribute 6 million free N95 masks.
In Maryland, Montgomery County Public Schools is providing KN95 masks to teachers, staff, and schoolchildren. So far U.S. manufacturers of N95 masks have distributed more than 2.5 million N95s and are working on distributing another 10 million free.
More efforts are underway to distribute these approved masks as new mask recommendations and guidelines move forward to becoming implemented.
While such action is being done on state, federal, and government levels already, the public is advised to use KN95 and N95 approved masks and to keep abreast of the new CDC mask guidance set to be released soon.
Amidst the Omicron variant, all action on all levels to ensure the right, approved face coverings and masks will act as a key component of preventive health measure strategies and help to mitigate the spread of COVID.