Story at a glance:

  • Regular paper masks and bandanas may not be as effective at preventing the spread of the coronavirus as other masks, one expert says.
  • When it comes to masks, KN95 masks or N95 masks could be the best option against spreading the coronavirus.
  • "Many of the face cloth coverings that people wear are not very effective in reducing any of the virus movement in or out."

When it comes to wearing masks, cloth face coverings may not be the most effective tool in reducing the spread of the coronavirus and preventing infection, one expert says. 

Michael Osterholm, director for the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, spoke to CNN on Monday and said that people should upgrade from cloth masks, bandanas and gators to more-effective N95 respirators. 


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Face masks do not prevent the spreading as effectively as some like to believe, Osterhold said. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says cloth masks still offer some protection and their effectiveness depends on the type of fabric, number of layers and the fit of the mask. The CDC is continually studying these factors. 

Studies have shown that multiple layers of cloth with higher thread counts are more effective than single layer cloths, in some cases filtering 50 percent of fine particles, according to the CDC. Overall, analysis has demonstrated that universal masking has led to a significant drop in new infections. 

"We need to talk about better masking," Osterholm said. "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."

The CDC classifies KN95 and N95 masks as those that are “designed and tested to ensure they perform at a consistent level to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

"You know 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," Osterholm said.

He then pointed out that people who wear cloth masks in the Northwest can still smell the wildfires.

"Either you're breathing out or you're breathing in and in fact if you're in the upper Midwest right now anybody who's wearing their face cloth covering can tell you they can smell all the smoke that we're still getting," he added.

Similarly, Scott Gottlieb, former Food & Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner, said in July that the right quality mask was necessary to protect against a strain as contagious as the 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," Gottlieb told host John Dickerson. "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."


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Published on Aug 06, 2021