Throughout the pandemic, public health has recommended wearing masks to reduce COVID-19 spread. All types of recommended masks, when worn properly and consistently, protect you and the community.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated its guidance to note that some masks offer greater protection than others, with certified N95 and KN95 masks on top of its list. In addition, the White House has announced plans to make 400 million N95 masks available for free at pharmacies and community health centers.
This news has focused understandable attention on which type of face covering is the best. The CDC notes that disposable medical masks and closely woven cloth masks continue to be options. Because some face coverings are harder to tolerate or wear consistently, the CDC recommends wearing the most protective mask or respirator you can, that fits well and that you can wear consistently. So do we.
Masks are designed to contain the droplets and particles you expel through breathing, sneezing, and coughing. If worn properly, they can also offer some protection against germs exhaled by others. However, they protect you best when others are masked as well.
In addition to containing your respiratory droplets and particles, masks like N95s and KN95s are designed to filter out germ-carrying particles and droplets exhaled by others.
A properly fitted respirator, like an N95 or a KN95, provides the highest level of protection and, as the CDC notes, may be most important for higher-risk situations such as caring for a sick relative or being in close proximity to others for extended periods of time. These also may be most important for those at higher risk from COVID-19, including older people, people with suppressed immune systems, and those who have not been vaccinated.
When considering masks, we encourage you to consider your risk, based both on any health factors and the situation you’ll be in.
The least protective choices you can make are: (1) not masking at all; (2) wearing a type of face covering that isn’t recommended by the CDC; and (3) wearing an otherwise effective mask incorrectly or inconsistently.
You’ll find plenty of information on masks at cdc.gov/Masks.