©Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People wait in line to be tested for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Tower Theater in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S., January 11, 2022. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
By David Shepardson and Lisa Baertlein
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday revised its guidance for Americans on wearing face masks to protect against COVID-19, recommending putting on “the most protective mask possible” without recommending its use at the national level. of N95 respirators.
The CDC, an agency critics accuse of offering shifting and confusing guidance amid the pandemic, clarified on its website “that people can choose respirators like N95s and KN95s, including removing concerns related to supply shortages.” supply of N95″.
Americans should “wear the most protective mask possible that fits them well and that they will wear consistently,” the CDC added.
The United States leads the world in COVID-19 deaths, about 850,000, even as it battles a surge of cases linked to the rapidly spreading Omicron variant of coronavirus. To complicate matters, some Americans refuse to get vaccinated.
President Joe Biden said Thursday that the federal government plans to make “high-quality masks” available to Americans for free. In another step, the White House said Friday that the government will begin shipping 500 million COVID-19 tests to Americans later this month free of charge.
The CDC said it wants to encourage Americans to wear masks instead of pressuring them to wear the highest-grade face protection, but also said explicitly that respirators provide the best level of protection. He said that “loose-weave fabric products provide the least protection.”
“The use of masks is a fundamental public health tool to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and it is important to remember that any mask is better than none,” the CDC added.
The CDC said the revised recommendations “reflect the science on masking, including what we have learned over the last two years,” since the start of the pandemic.
More Americans have recently opted for higher-grade protection amid rising cases.
The United States is accounting for about 1,800 COVID-19 deaths and 780,000 new daily infections, the most in the world, as well as record levels of hospitalized patients.
The Omicron-related surge appears to be slowing in areas that were hit first, including northeastern and southern states, according to a Reuters analysis. In Western states, the number of new cases was up 89% last week compared to the week before.
The CDC announced last May that fully vaccinated people could remove their masks, as COVID-19 cases were declining at the time. But in July, the CDC said fully vaccinated people should wear masks indoors in public places in regions where COVID-19 was spreading rapidly. The CDC said this week that 99.5% of US counties are currently covered by the mask recommendation.
Some US N95 makers told Reuters they had record N95 sales after Anthony Fauci, Biden’s top medical adviser, recommended on CNN that Americans “get the highest quality mask that you can tolerate and that is available to your”.
N95 masks worn correctly will filter at least 95% of airborne particles, preventing anything larger than 0.3 microns from getting through.
Los Angeles County, the nation’s most populous, will require some employers on Monday to provide “medical grade” masks (surgical masks, KF94, KN95 or N95) to workers at high risk of contracting a COVID-19 infection in the job.
The masks continue to polarize. Biden, a Democrat, again this week urged people to wear masks, noting that about a third of Americans report not wearing a mask at all. Many Republican-leaning states have no mask requirements. Some Democratic-ruled states, like California, have reinstated indoor mask mandates.
Blair Childs, an executive at Premier Inc, a group buying company for hospitals, raised concerns about legislation backed by US Senator Bernie Sanders that would send every person in the country a pack of three N95 masks. Childs said such proposals could “disrupt the health care supply chain.”
Days after taking office in January 2020, Biden imposed mask requirements on planes, trains and public transportation and at airports and other transit hubs, actions his predecessor, Donald Trump, refused to take. Last month, Biden extended face mask requirements through March 18. The CDC said Friday that wearing N95 masks may be considered in places like transit “when increased protection is needed or desired.”