KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 24 – Health experts in the United Kingdom, United States, and Canada have rendered cloth masks ineffective against the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant.
Governments across the world are tightening restrictions, including making face coverings mandatory in indoor public spaces and on public transport, to try and limit the spread of the new Covid-19 variant.
Trish Greenhalgh, professor of primary health care services at the University of Oxford, said the main issue with a cloth covering is they don’t have to meet any kind of health standard.
“Double or triple-layer masks made of a mix of materials can be more effective, but most cloth coverings are just ‘fashion accessories’,” Greenhalgh said, as quoted by Bloomberg. In contrast, N95 respirator mask manufacturers have to make sure they filter out 95 per cent of particles.
CNN’s medical analyst Dr Leana Wen on Monday said that cloth masks are useless in the fight against the Omicron, encouraging viewers instead to wear three-layer medical masks.
“I would say that if you choose to go, make sure that you’re vaccinated and boosted, make sure that you’re wearing a mask, even though it’s outdoors, if there are lots of people packed around you, wear a three-ply surgical mask,” Dr Wen said. “Don’t wear a cloth mask.”
“Cloth masks are little more than facial decorations. There’s no place for them in light of Omicron. And so wear a high-quality mask, at least a three-ply surgical mask,” she added.
Meanwhile, Dr Peter Juni, head of Ontario’s Science Advisory Table, advised Canadians last week to ditch single-layer cloth masks in favour of tighter-fitted ones.
“The issue here is if you have a single-layer, the ability to filtrate is absolutely minimal and doesn’t make a difference whatsoever,” he said, according to Global News.
Juni’s recommendation to do away with single-layer cloth face masks comes amid a call by some public health experts to re-examine masking guidelines, and more actively encourage the use of respirators and medical masks over cloth ones.
Colin Furness, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, said public health authorities need to encourage the use of N95 respirators in indoor public settings.
In November, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) updated its guidelines on mask use, suggesting respirators such as the N95 are more effective than non-medical masks.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) — which recently projected up to three billion Covid-19 infections globally over the next three months, equivalent to cases in the past two years — similarly said N95 masks should be used to protect against the extremely transmissible Omicron variant.