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Comparing Cloth Masks and Respirator Face Coverings in the Context of the Omicron Variant

Introduction

As the highly transmissible Omicron variant ravages the world, experts have said it is time to give serious thought to the options that are available to you, especially if you still wear cloth masks.

CNN medical analyst Dr Leana Wen sees cloth masks as no more than facial decorations. According to her, these masks don’t have a place as far as fighting the quickly-spreading Omicron variant is concerned.

Like many scientists, she has been at the forefront advocating for the use of better-quality face masks, like N95 or the European equivalent FFP2 maske rot. These masks are made using non-woven fabric to filter the smallest particles in the air and come in a variety of colours and sizes, including FFP2 maske blau. In this article, we tell you how these two masks compare, and why there is no better time than now for switching to high-quality face coverings. Read on to learn more.

Which Mask Guarantees Protection

Wen says that the least we can do is to wear three-ply masks. These are what are commonly known as disposable masks and are available in many grocery stores or pharmacies. To improve their efficiency, Wen recommends wearing a cloth mask on top of a three-ply face covering.

If you expect to be outdoors in a crowded place, the best thing to do is wear an FFP2 mask, N95, OR KN95 mask. They are easily available these days and are not as expensive as they used to be a year ago. Today, you can get a pack of 50 masks for a very modest fee. These masks are made of quality materials like polypropylene and have a much better fit. This makes them very effective at preventing particles and aerosols from finding their way into your body and causing you all sorts of problems.

Catalysts for Change

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors and health professionals were unanimous in discouraging the public from purchasing N95 masks. This was occasioned by the acute shortage of these masks at that time. They asked the general population to leave these face coverings to health workers who were on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus. Fortunately, N95 and FFP2 mask supply is no longer an issue.

Despite this, the US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued a guideline on choosing, cleaning, storing, and properly wearing face masks. The guidelines ask people to avoid respirator masks and choose face masks with two or three breathable and washable layers. According to Wen, the CDC got it wrong on this.

She says that if people have to be made to wear masks, especially from a culture that wasn’t used to the practice, people should at the very minimum be advised to choose the most effective masks.

European countries like Austria and Germany have adjusted their standards and are asking people to wear at least medical-grade mask while in the public.

Another thing catalyzing change in the recommendations of masks is that scientists now understand COVID-19 better, as well as how it spreads. It has taken a long time for people to fully understand the true nature of airborne diseases. They finally understood that coronavirus is not a hybrid infection, like, for example, influenza that can be transmitted by droplets, can be inhaled, and someone can get into contact with the germs on surfaces and be infected that way.

As it stands, scientists think that shared air is the main catalyst for coronavirus infection.

How do Cloth Mask and Respirator Masks Compare?

Encouraged during the start of the pandemic, cloth masks can filter substantially larger droplets. On the other hand, the more effective masks, for example, FFP2 maske blau, can filter not only large particles but also smaller particles or aerosols that may be harbouring airborne viruses where infected people are.

Also, a cloth mask also has significant inward and outward leakage (75%). The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists defines inward leakage as the percentage of particles that enter the facepiece. Outward leakage refers to particles breathed out by a source leaving the facepiece.

Properly fitting FFP2 masks can filter about 95% of disease-causing germs in the air. Their equivalent, N95 masks are approved by NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health).

Surgical masks rank much lower on the filtering efficiency scale. They filter about 37% of bacteria, viruses, or germs in the air.

In the Face of Omicron

While scientists are yet to find out the reason for the high rate of transmission of the Omicron variant, it only goes to reinforce why quality masks are so important.

Whether you are protecting against inhaling viruses, or you want to keep those in your vicinity safe by controlling the germs you pass out, masks play a vital role. They can cut down the quantity of air that you inhale and give you more time.

For example, if 100 viral particles are needed to infect you and then you wear a mask that reduces these viruses by 50%, it will take twice the time to get to 100.

“If you needed 1,000 viral particles to infect you and you’re wearing something that cuts 50% of things down, it’s now going to take twice as long to get to that 1,000. If you’re wearing one that is 90% efficient, it’s going to take at least 10 times as long before you get infected when you’re around somebody (who is infected).”

Better Quality Masks are Key

The aim should be to encourage people to switch to high-quality masks everywhere. That is because, at the moment, one-layer cloth masks aren’t cutting it when it comes to the Omicron variant. There is a need to test more and mask better. It’s the only way we’ll get through the pandemic.

Conclusion

As coronavirus cases surge in the world occasioned by the highly spreading omicron variant, experts are beseeching the members of the public to upgrade to better masks. The manner in which the Omicron variant continues to spread should be a wake up all to upgrade to better-quality masks.

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