Omicron may be better at sliding through masks because it is so contagious, according to infectious disease experts. They do, however, urge that practically everyone start covering up again.
Omicron was named as the newest COVID-19 variation of concern by the World Health Organization (WHO) three weeks ago. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the strain has already been identified in 37 US states and the District of Columbia (CDC).
According to William Schaffner, MD, a professor of health policy and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Omicron is not only more contagious than other COVID-19 variations, but it also appears to better escape protection from vaccinations and previous infections. Omicron is expected to overtake Delta as the dominant strain in the United States as a result of these two factors.
Do masks offer protection from the Omicron variant?
According to the CDC, masks are still effective at reducing the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19, especially the Omicron type. Because masks aren’t variant-specific, this is the case. According to Dr. Schaffner, they operate as a barrier, capturing and filtering virus particles from the air we breathe.
Masks, on the other hand, are an imperfect barrier, allowing some virus particles to get through. When it comes to the Omicron model, the chances of some particles escaping are probably considerably higher.
“Omicron creates more virus, even more virus than Delta,” Dr. Schaffner argues, citing research that shows the newest variation produces 70 times the quantity of virus as Delta. “As a result, the masks’ ability to disrupt or decrease back-and-forth communication is also reduced.”
That isn’t to say that masks are useless against Omicron. Masking is only one piece of the equation when it comes to defending yourself and your community against the variation.
Dr. Schaffner explains, “We have to conceive of these therapies as a sequence of Swiss cheese slices.” “Each slice creates a barrier, but it’s riddled with holes! It isn’t flawless. As a result, you can’t rely on just one intervention to keep us safe. We need to take a number of steps.”
The vaccination, of course, is the most robust slice of cheese. According to the CDC, “vaccines remain the greatest public health tool to protect people from COVID-19.” Even people who have been vaccinated (or have had a booster) should start wearing a mask or continue to do so, especially in crowded indoor environments. Seattle Children’s Hospital’s medical head of infection control, Danielle Zerr, MD, tells health.
“Omicron can infect even persons who are fully vaccinated and boosted,” says Dr. Schaffner, “therefore we don’t want to be spreaders to others, even if breakthrough infections are moderate.”
According to the CDC’s COVID-19 case map, individuals should wear masks inside in regions where community transmission of COVID-19 is high or considerable. This includes practically the whole country.
How to Protect Yourself from Omicron by Wearing a Mask
When it comes to masking, Dr. Schaffner believes that any barrier is preferable than none. However, masks must satisfy specific conditions in order to be successful in guarding against COVID-19. According to the CDC, your mask should include the following features:
- Two or more layers of washable, breathable cloth are recommended.
- So there are no gaps, they should fit snugly on the sides of your face.
- Use a nose wire to keep air from escaping out the top.
- Exhalation valves or vents should be avoided since they allow virus particles to escape.
Surgical masks and decent multi-layer cotton masks, according to Dr. Schaffner, will fulfill the aforementioned standards and are also affordable. If you want even more protection, Dr. Zerr suggests layering a fabric mask atop a disposable mask to make it fit more snugly. KN95s, which are made to hug the face, is another option.
Above all, your mask should cover both your mouth and nose. “By inhaling through your nose, we can shed the infection and thereby disseminate the virus,” adds Dr. Schaffner. “Just breathing in and out can taint the air up to three feet or even beyond.”