Three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, wearing a face mask has become normal for many people. While some states have lifted their mask mandates, the Centrs for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to recommend wearing a face covering. Now, as the omicron variant continues to spread rapidly across the United States, masks are being re-evaluated in hospitals or other healthcare facilities.
The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of two wear a face mask when in a public indoor setting, regardless of vaccination status. There are reasons some people cannot wear masks. For example, children under two years of age, a person with a disability who cannot safely wear a mask, or a person for whom wearing a mask would create a workplace risk are advised to not wear masks or to use precaution.
While cloth masks are among the most readily available options for face coverings, they are not strong enough to offer stop the spread of the omicron variant. Several studies have found that while high-quality cloth masks might perform similarly to a medical-grade mask, single-layer cloth masks and neck gaiters and bandanas do not provide optimal protection. While keeping the mask over the mouth and nose can help limit the spread of the coronavirus, according to the CDC, cloth masks do not provide an airtight fit across the face, allowing the virus to escape into the air through the mask when breathing or talking.
Because of the spread of the omicron variant, some hospitals and other healthcare facilities, including the Mayo Clinic, now require that patients and visitors wear surgical or procedural masks during the screening process or at check in. Patients who bring masks that are deemed unacceptable will be given a medical-grade mask. But patients and visitors may choose to wear a surgical or procedural mask over a cloth mask if preferred.
N95-style face masks are the most recommended to control the spread of the omicron variant.Countries such as Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic have begun mandating the use of N95-style masks because they are designed to achieve a close facial fit and efficient filtration of airborne particles, according to USA Today.
Mackenna Moralez is assistant editor with Healthcare Facilities Today.