© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People wait in line to be tested for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at Tower Theater in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA, January 11, 2022. REUTERS / Nick Oxford
By David Shepardson and Lisa Baertlein
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday revised its guidelines for Americans to wear masks to protect against COVID-19, and recommended wearing “the most protective mask you can” , while stopping advocating for nationwide use of the N95 respirator.
The CDC, an agency critics have accused of offering shifting and confusing guidance amid the pandemic, clarified on its website “that people can choose respirators like the N95s and KN95s, including removing concerns related to supply shortages for the N95s.”
Americans should “wear the most protective mask you can, which fits well and which you will wear consistently,” the CDC added.
The United States is a world leader in COVID-19 deaths – about 850,000 – even though it is battling a wave of cases involving the rapidly spreading Omicron coronavirus variant. The complicated matter is that some Americans refuse to be vaccinated.
President Joe Biden said Thursday that the federal government plans to make “high-quality masks” available to Americans for free. In another step, the White House said Friday that the government will begin sending 500 million COVID-19 tests to Americans later this month at no charge.
The CDC said it wants to encourage Americans to wear masks instead of forcing them to wear the highest quality face protection, but also said explicitly that respirators provide the best level of protection. It said that “loosely woven fabric products provide the least protection.”
“Masking is a critical public health tool to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and it is important to remember that any mask is better than no mask,” the CDC added.
The CDC said the revised recommendations “reflect the science of masking, including what we’ve learned over the past two years,” since the start of the pandemic.
Several Americans have recently opted for a higher degree of protection amid the increase in cases.
The United States counts about 1,800 COVID-19 deaths and 780,000 new infections daily – the most in the world – as well as record levels of hospitalized patients.
The Omicron-related increase appears to be slowing in areas that were hit first, including states in the northeast and south, according to a Reuters analysis. In western states, the number of new cases increased by 89% in the past week compared to the previous week.
The CDC in May last year announced that fully vaccinated people could throw away their face masks as COVID-19 cases were then in decline. But in July, the CDC said fully vaccinated people should wear masks in indoor public places in regions where COVID-19 spread rapidly. The CDC said this week that 99.5% of U.S. counties are currently covered by the mask recommendation.
Some US N95 manufacturers told Reuters they had record-high N95 sales after Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, recommended on CNN that Americans “get the highest quality mask that you can tolerate and that is available to you.”
Properly worn N95 masks will filter out at least 95% of particles in the air, preventing anything greater than 0.3 microns from passing through.
Los Angeles County, the nation’s most populous, will on Monday require some employers to supply “medical grade” masks – surgical masks, KF94, KN95s or N95s – to workers at high risk of contracting a COVID-19 infection at work. .
Masks remain polarizing. Biden, a Democrat, again this week urged people to wear masks, noting that about a third of Americans report not wearing a mask at all. Many states that are Republican have no mask requirement. Some democratically governed states like California have reintroduced mandates for the indoor mask.
Blair Childs, a director at Premier Inc, a group procurement company for hospitals, expressed concern over legislation backed by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders that would send every person in the country a package of three N95 masks. Childs said such proposals could “throw the health care chain into disarray.”
Days after taking office in January 2020, Biden imposed mask demands on planes, trains and public transport and at airports and other transit hubs – actions that his predecessor Donald Trump refused to take. Biden last month extended the requirements for transit mask until March 18. The CDC said Friday that N95 masks could be considered for use in places such as transit “when greater protection is needed or desired.”