IDSA Response to CDC’s Updates on Masking Guidance
The Omicron SARS-CoV-2 variant is more transmissible than earlier variants, which means that wearing the right mask is even more important. The Infectious Diseases Society of America supports CDC’s clarification of its guidance on masking.
For the public, infectious diseases experts have consistently said that close-fitting masks are a critical tool to reduce transmission of COVID-19. How and when a mask is worn is just as important as the mask’s material.
Given the high level of risk to which health care professionals are exposed, specially labeled surgical N95 respirators should be reserved for use in health care settings. However, individuals in the public may choose regular, non-surgical N95 or KN95 masks — particularly in scenarios with the highest risk of transmission — especially now that the supply chain for these masks has improved compared to earlier in the pandemic.
Masks should fit the wearer, cover the nose and mouth and fit close against the face with no gaps. Well-fitting cloth masks with at least two layers of fabric still offer important protection and are far better than not masking at all. A well-fitting N95 or KN95 may be appropriate for individuals who want a greater level of protection and are particularly useful in a crowded indoor setting that is poorly ventilated or in the presence of an immunocompromised or ill individual.
While N95 and KN95 masks are more readily available, they are still much more costly than cloth masks, especially since they are intended for one-time use. This cost barrier can exacerbate already significant health inequities. We are encouraged by President Biden’s announcement that the Administration will soon make high quality masks available for free and look forward to hearing the details of this plan.
Masking, isolating when sick and getting vaccinated against COVID-19 are proven to prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death. Everyone should get their booster shot when eligible. All of these measures are important components of a layered approach to prevention and transmission of COVID-19. Everyone should mask up in indoor public settings, and infected individuals who leave isolation after five days must continue to wear their mask around others.
Daniel P. McQuillen, MD, FIDSA – President, Infectious Diseases Society of America
The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) is a community of over 12,000 physicians, scientists, and public health experts who specialize in infectious diseases. Its purpose is to improve the health of individuals, communities, and society by promoting excellence in patient care, education, research, public health, and prevention relating to infectious diseases. Learn more at https://www.idsociety.org/.