Lots of experts had been saying it for a while, but now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made it official by revising its guidelines to recommend Americans wear “the most protective mask you can.” Although the CDC stopped short of pushing everyone to wear N95 respirators, it has made clear that certain masks offer better protection against the coronavirus than others.
“Loosely woven cloth products provide the least protection, layered finely woven products offer more protection, well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN95s offer even more protection, and well-fitting NIOSH-approved respirators (including N95s) offer the highest level of protection,” the CDC said. Although there had previously been concern about shortages of N95s and KN95s for health care workers, that’s no longer the case and people can now wear them without worry. When wearing a higher-quality mask isn’t possible, the CDC recommends a disposable mask underneath a cloth mask. Details aside, the CDC still wants to send the message “that any mask is better than no mask,” as Kristen Nordlund, a CDC spokeswoman, said.
The Friday update marks the first time the CDC has changed its guidelines on face coverings since September, meaning before the omicron-fueled surge. The new guidelines note that the higher-quality masks “may be most important for certain higher risk situations, or by some people at increased risk for severe disease.” Those higher-risk situations include being on an airplane or public transportation. The CDC also recommends “universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K–12 schools, regardless of their vaccination status or the area’s transmission rates.”
The change in CDC guidelines came a day after President Joe Biden said the government plans to make “high-quality masks” available to Americans for free. “I know that for some Americans, the mask is not always affordable or convenient to get,” Biden said. “Next week we’ll announce how we’re making high-quality masks available to the American people for free.”