While reusable face masks have become common in the past two years, some medical experts say a reusable cloth mask may not be the best option anymore, especially with the omicron variant.
In a change from previous guidance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said earlier this month that N95 respirators offer the "highest level protection."
However, the agency stopped short of recommending a specific type of mask.
Instead, the CDC advises people to wear the most protective mask that fits well.
But what can you do to make sure you're the best protected as possible? And is doubling up on masks a good idea?
How your mask should fit and whether or not you can double up depends on the type of mask.
Cloth and Surgical Masks
- A proper fit over your nose, mouth, and chin to prevent leaks
- Multiple layers of tightly woven, breathable fabric
- Nose wire
- Fabric that blocks light when held up to bright light source
Health officials stressed that cloth masks should not contain gaps around the sides of the face, exhalation valves or a single layer of thin fabric.
- Knot and tuck ear loops of a 3-ply mask where they join the edge of the mask
- For disposable procedure masks, fold and tuck the unneeded material under the edges.
- Use masks that attach behind the neck and head with either elastic bands or ties (instead of ear loops)
- For additional protection, the CDC said people can wear a disposable mask underneath a cloth mask that has multiple layers of fabric. This way of wearing a mask may be a better fit for those with a beard.
Dr. Allison Arwady, the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, previously said that while double-masking is a good way to provide “excellent protection," she too stressed the importance of having a mask that properly fits.
“If you’ve got gaps, you can have droplets leaking out. We’ve been recommending wearing one of the surgical masks with a cloth mask over it,” she said. “That’s a good way to have excellent protection."
N95, KN95 (and similar options)
- They seal tightly to your face when fitted properly.
- It is important to pick a respirator that fits your face and seals well since not all fit the same.
Do NOT wear respirators:
- If they have exhalation valves, vents, or other openings (this applies to international respirators)
- If it is hard to breathe while wearing them
- If they are wet or dirty
- With other masks or respirators
If you find certain N95s difficult to wear for long periods, experts suggest exploring the different shapes and styles available to see what works best for you.