Considerable number of people I see on campus wear cloth masks, mainly because they are reusable and comfortable. However, according to CDC, cloth masks made with thin layers of fabric wouldn’t provide enough protection against the virus.
“Cloth masks are little more than facial decorations. There’s no place for them in light of Omicron,” said CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen.
Though the efficacy of cloth masks differ greatly based on the fabric and thickness and different studies show different results, masks with at least two to three layers of cotton filter about 50% of inward particles. This means that 50% of the particles will penetrate through the mask every time you inhale.
Generally, cloth masks are not recommended especially with the new variant.
A better mask choice would be surgical masks (it is now recommended to wear surgical masks or other masks of higher ratings), as they are now widely sold in markets at a relatively low price.
Surgical masks, or medical face masks, are disposable masks made with melt-blown polymer placed in between two pieces of non-woven fabric. They can filter up to about 70% of inward particles, according to MedRxiv, but because of their loose fit, it does not efficiently filter small particles (< 1μm) in the air.
To improve the filtration ability of surgical masks, a mask brace can be worn to tighten the gap between the mask and your face. Surgical masks are on market at an affordable price and are as breathable as cloth masks.
Other masks such as the KN95, N95 and KF94 are another good options if you want stronger protection against the current virus. They are generally more expensive but are surely better filters.
As there are so many options for masks nowadays, it’s important to choose the right one that works for each individual.