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Can your cloth mask stop the Omicron variant of coronavirus?

With cases surging uncontrollably and the world now in the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic led by the Omicron variant, healthcare experts and scientists have pointed out that the cloth masks that we normally use to protect from catching the virus may not be that successful.

Doctors are urging to ditch the single-layered cloth mask and opt for at least two or three-layered face masks to prevent the small aerosols from getting out and infecting others. Scientists have recommended pairing the single-layer cloth mask with a surgical mask or more effective respirator masks to safeguard from the new variant of coronavirus.

Healthcare experts have said that single-layer masks, which are effective in blocking the bigger chunk of aerosols carrying the virus do not comply in a similar manner against the smaller ones as seen in the case of Omicron. The Omicron variant has an extremely high transmission rate due to its unique mutations on the spike protein.

According to the latest guidelines issued by the US-based Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), everyone two years or older who is not fully vaccinated should wear a mask in indoor public places.

“Wear one disposable mask underneath a cloth mask that has multiple layers of fabric. The second mask should push the edges of the inner mask against the face and beard,” the CDC guidelines said. It also maintains that reusable masks should be washed as soon as they become dirty, or at least once a day. If you have a disposable face mask, throw it away after wearing it once.

N95 masks could be helpful since they have a dense network of fibre that are held together by a tighter mesh with an electrostatic charge in the material. This makes it highly efficient in trapping larger droplets and aerosols exhaled in the air along with blocking them as well.

The N95 masks filters up to 95 per cent of particles in the air and seals tightly to the face when fitted properly. They may feel harder to breathe through than a cloth mask due to their tight fit. However, healthcare experts have also said not to wear an N95 mask if you have certain types of facial hair or suffer from some form of breathing issues.

According to the ACGIH’s Pandemic Response Task Force, it will take 25 hours for an infectious dose of Covid-19 to transmit between people wearing non-fit-tested N95 respirators. If they’re using tightly sealed N95s—where only 1 per cent of particles enter the facepiece—they will have 2,500 hours of protection.

Healthcare experts are unified in saying that both masks and getting vaccinated works in the fight against Covid-19.

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