CDC to set new mask rules: What you need to know
New guidelines for face coverings are expected to make health protection and virtue signaling more costly
Americans will reportedly soon be advised to wear better-filtering and more expensive N95 and KN95 masks to curb the spread of Covid-19. Here’s what you need to know about the change.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reportedly set to update its guidelines for wearing masks amid the pandemic. It will advise that, if people can “tolerate wearing a KN95 or N95 mask all day,” they should do so, according to the Washington Post.
What are N95 and KN95 masks?
These face coverings are quite good at filtering particles, but are still relatively easy to wear. They are designed for professional settings like healthcare or construction works. The masks form an effective seal with a person’s face and are said to filter out at least 95% of small particles.
The difference between the N95 and KN95 masks emanates from varying standards set out by US and Chinese authorities. China requires face-fit testing of KN95 masks, unlike the US, where organizations like hospitals have their own rules in this area. The American standard also requires N95 masks to be slightly more “breathable” than KN95 masks.
What are the CDC’s recommendations on masks now?
The current version of the CDC guidelines, last updated in October, recommends using more comfortable cloth masks with two layers of fabric for most people in most settings. It specifically requires the general population not to wear N95 respirators marked “surgical” – meaning they’re designed to protect both the wearer and the people around them.
The reason is that US hospitals are not allowed to use KN95 protection at all, and the CDC wants healthcare personnel to have priority access to the limited stock. Critics say that recommendation, which dates back to the times when personal protection equipment (PPE) was in short supply globally, is long obsolete.
Is the change about Omicron?
In short, yes, but that’s not the whole story. The Omicron variant has proven to be more transmissible and more capable of beating vaccine-induced immunity than previous strains of SARS-CoV-2 virus. But some countries in Europe like Germany mandated FFP2 masks – which is the EU standard offering N95-level protection – as early as January 2021. That was after the global PPE availability problems were solved and long before Omicron emerged.
It looks like Americans are facing additional costs…
Well, prices in the US did surge following media reports about the looming CDC guidance update. For example, a pack of 40 KN95 masks of the Hotodeal brand jumped to $79.99 on Amazon, up from $16.99 in late November, according to data cited by Bloomberg. The issue of face coverings is highly politicized in the US.
There are people religiously devoted to observing every and all health rules while shaming those who violate them for whatever reason. One can only wonder which factors were predominant in the apparent buying rush: Omicron concerns, the wish to jump in on the latest way to virtue signal, vendors speculating over the volatile PPE market, or something else entirely.