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

"There is emerging evidence that a surgical mask or a hospital or a medical grade mask does a better job," said Dr. Adi Shah.

ByKristin Thorne WABC logo
Friday, January 7, 2022
Evidence emerging that cloth masks are not as effective against COVID
Kristin Thorne has the latest on mask effectiveness and what experts are recommending.

NEW YORK -- You better start stocking up on your surgical or N95 or KN95 masks. Studies are emerging that cloth masks are not as effective in preventing the spread of COVID.

A study released in November by researchers at Yale University, Stanford University and others found that villages in Bangladesh where surgical masks were worn had 11% fewer cases of COVID than in villages where no masks were worn. In villages that wore cloth masks, infections were reduced by only 5%.

The Mayo Clinic is now asking all of its patients and visitors to wear a surgical mask or other medical grade mask.

"There is emerging evidence that a surgical mask or a hospital or a medical grade mask does a better job of preventing respiratory droplets carrying the virus to other people around you," said Dr. Adi Shah with the Mayo Clinic.

Shah said evidence from smaller studies is also suggesting that a surgical mask offers better protection than a cloth mask. Shah reminded people that a mask is not meant to protect the person wearing the mask, but other people.

The N95 or KN95 mask has always been and is still considered the gold standard for protection. Those masks are tested and certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health that they can filter up to 95% of particles in the air.

Stephanie Goureau, of Sutton Place, said she always wears an N95 mask.

"I think that we have enough information that we can get to know that these are the safest," she said.

Utica-based Environmental Composites is designing a domestically made N95 mask.

"The N95 is a step up in your protection," said the company's President Stephen Copperwheat. "If you're worried about your protection, you go to the N95."

Copperwheat said incredible rigor and standards go into getting N95 masks certified by the federal government.

Federal health officials say that any mask, even a cloth mask, is better than no mask.

The CDC on Wednesday also reiterated its existing guidance that that the general public can wear a well-fitted cloth mask. Some infectious disease experts have been calling on the public to wear an n95 mask, but others argue that wearing an n95s that doesn't fit properly, with gaps around the edges, isn't helpful. The CDC says it's OK to wear a disposable n95 if you have one, and if it fits snugly. But the CDC says scientific studies continue to support the use of a well-fitted, multi-layered cloth mask.

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