We are seeing a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant. That means, more of us will test positive, including some people who are vaccinated. The vaccines are doing their job of preventing severe illness, but we can expect more cases.
Because Omicron is so highly contagious, well-fitting and high-quality face masks are more important than ever. It’s one of the most important tools we have right now to limit the spread.
We know that wearing masks is not something new. It’s been one of the key ways we’ve protected one another. But now, with Omicron surging, we have to be even more diligent. If you are thinking twice about whether to wear a mask in a particular situation, opt for yes.
Especially in higher risk situations, use the best quality and best-fitting mask you can get. Scenarios where you may need even better protection can include being in close and prolonged contact with people whose vaccination status is unknown, being in crowded indoor settings, riding on transportation (especially when you can’t keep distance), working at a job where you interact with large numbers of people, and if you are at increased risk for severe illness.
The highest quality, in order, are:
- N95, KN95 and KF94 are the most effective, provided they are genuine and have been tested to meet a standard. These are better at filtering the virus and now are more widely available for the public. These are disposable, so you will need to replace them (depending on how much you wear it). These masks can be more expensive. Beware of counterfeits. Project N95 aims to help people find a credible source for buying N95 and KN95.
- Surgical masks that have been tested to meet a national standard (ASTM 2/3). These are also disposable.
- Cloth masks that have at least two layers. These can be washed and re-used. You can also wear a disposable mask underneath a cloth mask. (Note: N95/KN95 masks should not be layered with other masks.)
For more information on N95 and KN95 see our previous mask blog.
A snug fit is key for the mask to work well. Masks that are loose, with gaps around your face or nose, are not as helpful in protecting you or others. For visuals of these tips, visit the guidance for improved mask use from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Additional mask resources
- King County posters web page provides multiple mask poster options
- King County mask web page includes guidance on masks and kids
- Information on local mask guidance.
Originally posted December 21, 2021