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Do masks protect you from the omicron variant? Here’s what we know

An expert suggested the omicron variant can evade masks, but masks can still slow the spread

Shoppers wearing face masks to protect against COVID-19.
Shoppers wearing face masks to protect against COVID-19 walk along the Grand Bouvard in Paris, Monday, Dec. 20, 2021.
Michel Euler, Associated Press

Face masks have long been considered a way to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But do face masks stop the new omicron variant of the virus?

Masks are an effective way to reduce the risk of contracting and spreading the coronavirus, experts said. Masks often act as barriers that traps virus particles from slipping through and infecting others.

  • However. masks are imperfect, meaning some virus particles can slip through.

Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of health policy and infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, said face masks might not be as effective at stopping the omicron variant.

  • “Omicron produces more virus, even than delta,” Schaffner told Health. “So, the masks’ capacity to interrupt or reduce transmission back and forth is likewise reduced.”

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told ABC News last week that face masks won’t be around forever. While the CDC is encouraging people to wear them now, it’s unlikely masks will last forever.

  • “Masks are for now, they’re not forever,” Walensky told ABC News. “We have to find a way to be done with them.”

Walensky said the best way to end the use of face masks is to embrace the current strategies of fighting COVID-19, like the vaccine and following public health guidances.

  • “Science is hard in a two-minute soundbite,” she said. “Know that every single decision — as hard as they are — have been grounded in science.”