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Cloth masks might not stop the omicron variant, doctors say

You may want to reconsider your mask choice because of the omicron variant

A group of girls wearing face masks.
A group of girls wearing face masks leave a subway station in Lisbon, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021.
Associated Press

Cloth face masks might not stop the omicron variant from transmitting between COVID-19 patients, according to health officials.

Dr. Asha Shajahan, the medical director of Community Health for Beaumont Grosse Pointe in Detroit, told Fox 2 Detroit that a cloth mask isn’t enough to stop omicron. Instead, people need heavy-duty masks to ward off the variant.

  • “You want to make sure it’s at least a three layer surgical mask or an N-95 or higher,” she said. “We want to make sure it’s not a cloth mask. A cloth mask does not offer the protection that you need.”

Single-layer cloth masks aren’t enough to stop the omicron variant, she said. Surgical masks can work, though.

  • “The purpose for wearing a mask is to offer filtration from the aerosol particles of the virus,” she said.
  • “If you have a cloth mask you want to make sure it’s at least 2-3 layers, but I would recommend getting a surgical mask that actually has the filters built into the material,” Shajahan said.

This seems to be a running theme among experts. Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of health policy and infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told Health that face masks might not be enough to stop 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.”

But masks aren’t forever. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told ABC News in December that masks will be dropped once the pandemic comes to an end.

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