Do you need to upgrade your mask? Experts weigh effectiveness as COVID-19 continues to spread

CHICAGO (WLS) -- With the omicron variant surge continuing in the Chicago area and across the country, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention said it might be time to upgrade your masks.

Some experts have been questioning the effectiveness of cloth masks and others in providing enough protection.

SEE ALSO | Chicago may have hit omicron peak; 1.5M KN95 face masks distributed across city

There's no question masks slow COVID-19 transmission. But the White House has signaled a massive push to get relatively airtight N95 and KN95 masks into people's hands could be around the corner given the unprecedented transmissibility of the omicron variant.

"Any mask is better than no mask, and we do encourage all Americans to wear a well-fitting mask to protect themselves and prevent the spread of COVID-19," said Dr. Rochelle Walensky of the CDC. "And that recommendation is not going to change."

The move comes as Chicago started passing out 1.9 million KN95 masks.

"KN95 masks are not required just to be clear," said Dr. Allison Arwady. "But if you were looking to upgrade your mask, we are working to help make those available."

For MAC Medical, a female-owned medical supply company, the news from the CDC is good.

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"A three-ply mask that you can wear as a thin breathable easy mask can be quite effective," said Mara Maddocks of MAC Medical.

They're warning that upwards of 60% of N95-type masks on the retail market now aren't up to the standard.

"It is really dangerous because you think you were wearing a mask and it is actually not protecting you," Maddocks said. "We know that can be a really bad situation."

There are millions of masks in a 100,000 square-foot warehouse facility for MAC Medical and they're going to be going out to the regular clients like institutions and hospitals. So if the federal government actually floods the market with N95 masks for everybody else, that's not really going to affect business there. But it may have implications.

SEE ALSO | Evidence emerging that cloth masks are not as effective as surgical masks against COVID

A Biden administration official said Tuesday they planned to sign a contract within the next month or so that would identify a provider to produce 140 million N95 masks per month. In the meantime, MAC Medical said consumers should feel confident wearing what the professionals do.

"This is generally what clinicians are wearing in the hospitals," Maddocks said of regular surgical masks. "If you are wearing this the right way, it is pressed your face, it should be as effective or even in some cases more effective than N95 masks."
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