The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday revised its guidance on wearing masks to protect against Covid, recommending people use “the most protective mask you can” while stopping short of advocating nationwide usage of N95 respirators, Reuters reports.
The CDC, an agency critics have accused of offering shifting and confusing guidance amid the pandemic, clarified on its website “that people can choose respirators such as N95s and KN95s, including removing concerns related to supply shortages for N95s”.
Americans should “wear the most protective mask you can that fits well and that you will wear consistently”, the CDC added.
The United States leads the world in Covid deaths – roughly 850,000 – even as it battles a surge of cases involving the fast-spreading Omicron variant. Complicating matters is the refusal of some Americans to get vaccinated.
The president, Joe Biden, said on Thursday that the federal government planned to make “high-quality masks” available to Americans for free. In another step, the White House on Friday said the government will begin shipping 500 million Covid tests to Americans later this month without charge.
The CDC said it wants to encourage Americans to wear masks rather than push them to wear the highest-grade face protection, but also explicitly said that respirators provide the best level of protection. It said that “loosely woven cloth products provide the least protection”.
“Masking is a critical public health tool to prevent the spread of Covid-19, and it is important to remember that any mask is better than no mask,” the CDC added.
The CDC said the revised recommendations “reflect the science on masking, including what we have learned in the past two years”, since the start of the pandemic.
More Americans have been recently opting for higher-grade protection amid the surge in cases.
The US is tallying about 1,800 Covid deaths and 780,000 new infections daily – the most in the world – as well as record levels of hospitalised patients.
The CDC last May announced that fully vaccinated people could shed their face coverings, as Covid cases were then on the decline. But in July, the CDC said fully vaccinated people should wear masks in indoor public places in regions where Covid was spreading rapidly. The CDC said this week 99.5% of US counties currently are covered by the mask recommendation.
Los Angeles County, the nation’s most populous, on Monday will require some employers to provide “medical-grade” masks – surgical masks, KF94, KN95s or N95s – to workers at high risk of Covid infection on the job.
Masks remain polarising. Biden, a Democrat, this week again urged people to wear masks and noted that about a third of Americans report they do not wear a mask at all. Many Republican-leaning states have no mask requirements. Some Democratic-governed states such as California have reimposed indoor mask mandates.