Coronavirus: CDC updates mask recommendations

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its mask recommendations on Friday, with officials saying that people should “wear the most protective mask you can that fits well and that you will wear consistently.”

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The update came following speculation that the public health agency would recommend that people wear N95 or KN95 masks. Previously, officials recommended against using the highly protective masks amid a shortage among health care workers.

“One of the first things we did when we entered office was to significantly improve our manufacturing and stockpile of all personal protective equipment,” White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said Wednesday at a news conference. “Today, N95 masks are widely available, and the government has a strong stockpile of over 750 million masks for health care workers and first responders.”

>> See the full guidance released by the CDC

In updates published Friday on the CDC’s website, officials said that masks labeled as “surgical” N95 respirators should still be reserved for use by health care workers.

“Loosely woven cloth products provide the least protection, layered finely woven products offer more protection, well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN95s offer even more protection and well-fitting NIOSH-approved respirators (including N95s) offer the highest level of protection,” officials said.

“Whatever product you choose, it should provide a good fit (i.e., fitting closely on the face without any gaps along the edges or around the nose) and be comfortable enough when worn properly (covering your nose and mouth) so that you can keep it on when you need to.”

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The updated guidance comes as the U.S. grapples with a surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the arrival of the highly transmissible omicron variant. Omicron was first detected in the U.S. on Dec. 1 and has since become the dominant variant linked to coronavirus infections nationwide, accounting for 98% of recent COVID-19 infections, according to the CDC.

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Since the start of the pandemic, officials have reported 64.6 million cases of COVID-19 nationwide, resulting in nearly 849,000 deaths, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University. Globally, 322.4 million cases have been reported, resulting in 5.5 million deaths, according to the university.