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Coronavirus

Expert says one popular mask type doesn’t protect against COVID-19

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Masks have been deemed one of the most effective preventative measures against COVID-19, however an expert recently stated that cloth masks or fabric face coverings are not as effective in preventing infection.

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Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota Michael Osterholm told the CNN on Monday that people should upgrade from bandana face coverings and cloth masks to more effective masks such as the N95 respirators.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that cloth masks still offer some degree of protection, they also stated that their effectiveness can differ based on the type of fabric, number of layers and the fit of the face covering.

A security guard uses a cloth face mask as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 novel coronavirus in the Thong Lor area of Bangkok on March 17, 2020. (AFP)
A security guard uses a cloth face mask as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 novel coronavirus in the Thong Lor area of Bangkok on March 17, 2020. (AFP)

Research has shown that multiple layers of cloth with high thread counts could be more effective than masks that are of single layer cloths, with the ability to filter 50 percent of fine particles, according to the CDC.

According to Osterholm, the concept of masking needs to be more widely discussed.

“We need to talk about N95 respirators, which would do a lot for both people who are not yet vaccinated or are not previously infected. Protecting them as well as keeping others who might become infected having been vaccinated from breathing out the virus,” said Osterholm.

The CDC has classified KN95 and N95 masks as the most effective, stating that they have been “designed and tested to ensure they perform at a consistent level to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

“… I wish we could get rid of the term masking because, in fact, it implies that anything you put in front of your face works, and if I could just add a nuance to that which hopefully doesn’t add more confusion is we know today that many of the face cloth coverings that people wear are not very effective in reducing any of the virus movement in or out,” added Osterholm.

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A standard FFP 2 face mask (R) and two surgical masks are displayed in Ludwigsburg, southern Germany, on January 20, 2021. (AFP)
A standard FFP 2 face mask (R) and two surgical masks are displayed in Ludwigsburg, southern Germany, on January 20, 2021. (AFP)

Former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Scott Gottlieb has said that individuals needed to ensure that they wear the right quality mask to protect themselves against the superspreader delta variant.

“It’s not more airborne, and it’s not more likely to be permeable to a mask. So, a mask can still be helpful,” US-based online news media The Hill quoted him as saying.

“I think, though, if you’re going to consider wearing a mask, the quality of the mask does matter. So, if you can get your hands on a KN95 mask or an N95 mask, that’s going to afford you a lot more protection,” he added.

The World Health Organization has advised that staying safe entails wearing a mask, especially around other people, adding that the appropriate use, storage and cleaning or disposal of masks are essential to their effectiveness.

According to the global health body’s website, people must clean their hands before and after putting a mask on or disposing of it, adding that they must also ensure that it is worn properly by covering the nose, mouth, and chin and that upon disposal, the mask must be thrown in a trash bin. If it is a reusable mask, people must wash them every day and store it in a clean plastic bag.

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