clear up your patients’ confusion about which masks work best
The emergence of the quickly spreading COVID-19 Omicron variant has patients wondering what kind of mask they should be wearing, particularly when in public indoor spaces. As knowledge of masks and their benefits continue to evolve, physicians want patients to know what to look for when choosing one to wear.
In April 2020, the first recommendation for mask-wearing was to protect others—your family, friends, and the older adult or immunocompromised person at the grocery store. Now, though, the growing body of evidence suggests that wearing a mask to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19—is key to protecting yourself too, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“The science is really clear on this—masks are an important way that we can all slow down and prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said Preeti Malani, MD, chief health officer and professor of medicine in the infectious diseases division at the University of Michigan. Dr. Malani is also associate editor of JAMA.
It’s essential to practice physical distancing and avoid gatherings, “but basically anytime you’re with anyone not in your immediate household or in any public space when you’ve left your house, we should be wearing a mask,” said Dr. Malani. “It should be part of our uniform, like you would wear shoes.”
“It’s just become something that people have gotten used to. At the same time, there are people who don’t want to wear masks and science is not necessarily guiding that, though,” she said, adding that the science is clear on this—masks are an important tool, along with vaccines, to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Because SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted predominantly by respiratory droplets and aerosol particles generated when people talk, breathe, sneeze or cough, the CDC recommends community use of masks. With this guidance from the CDC, Dr. Malani offered advice on choosing the right mask to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Think about double masking
At a minimum, people should consider wearing two masks—or double masking—while Omicron and Delta variants continue to spread. This means wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask for a tighter fit. A mask fitter can also help improve the fit of a person’s mask for better protection.
Adding more layers of material to a mask—or wearing two masks—reduces the number of respiratory droplets containing the virus that come through the mask. If one person is using a cloth mask over a surgical mask while the other person is not, it has been shown to block 85.4% of particles emitted during a cough. While double masking or a mask fitter may not offer as much protection as an N95 respirator, they are a big improvement compared to a cloth mask alone.
Masks that fit properly
When choosing a mask, ensure that it fits properly. That means it is snug around the nose and chin without large gaps around the sides of the face.
The mask should be comfortable Wear it consistently and make sure it covers your mouth and nose completely
Avoid ill-fitting masks such as spandex neck gaiters, which “don’t stay in place for most people,
Multilayer, tightly woven cloth masks
The use of multilayer cloth masks can block 50–70% of fine droplets and particles. They can also limit the forward spread of droplets and particles that are not captured, notes the CDC. In fact, upwards of 80% blockage has been achieved with cloth masks in some studies, which is about on par with surgical masks as barriers for source control.
Other materials, such as silk masks, may help repel moist droplets. They may also reduce fabric wetting, which can help maintain breathability and comfort for the wearer
Sara Berg, MS
AMA Affiliated Groups
Senior News Writer