Experts say the common blue masks worn by millions of Australians are not protecting them against the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
Experts say the common blue masks worn by millions of Australians are not protecting them adequately against the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
Australia is among a long list of countries currently fighting fast-moving outbreaks dominated by the latest strain of coronavirus.
In Victoria, NSW and Queensland, tens of thousands of new infections are being recorded every day but thankfully the Omicron variant appears milder than its predecessor in the majority of cases.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, who returned from leave on Tuesday, addressed Omicron’s unprecedented spread when talking to reporters.
“We’ve now got this variant. From a transmission point of view, the vaccines don’t work anywhere near as well against this new variant,” he said.
The message is that people should have three doses of a Covid-19 vaccine but also wear a well-fitted mask when around others.
Linsey Marr, a researcher at Virginia Tech University, says “cloth masks are not going to cut it with Omicron.
Speaking with National Public Radio in the US, she said KN95 masks or N95 masks are the only masks which offer enough protection against Omicron when it is airborne.
“[People] should feel pretty safe because the booster provides strong protection against severe outcomes, and even if infected people are present and releasing viruses into the air, a properly fitting N95 will reduce the amount you breathe in by 95 per cent or more,” she said.
It is a message being shared by other experts.
Researchers at Duke University found that N95 masks were the most effective in keeping droplets away. According to USA Today, the research conducted last year found N95 masks were 99 per cent effective in blocking respiratory droplets.
Leana Wen from George Washington University’s Milken Institute of Public Health told CNN that cloth masks will not do the job with so many cases of Omicron around.
“We need to be wearing at least a three-ply surgical mask,” she said.
“You can wear a cloth mask on top of that, but do not just wear a cloth mask alone.
“Cloth masks are little more than facial decorations. There’s no place for them in light of Omicron.
“This is what scientists and public health officials have been saying for months, many months, in fact.
“If we’re going to go as far as to say that masks are required, when we don’t come from a mask-wearing culture and people don’t like wearing masks, at least recommend that they wear the most effective mask.”
Writing in The Atlantic, Olga Khazan noted that N95 masks “were what ER doctors wore to treat Covid patients at the very beginning of the pandemic – before vaccines or boosters were available, and before most people began wearing masks indoors at all”.