It's time to upgrade from cloth masks, experts say

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Misinformation surrounding masking has turned the topic into a binary for Americans: either you're masked or not — but experts say the public needs to start paying attention to the quality of their masks.  

In an Oct. 4 piece for The Atlantic, science editor Yasmin Tayag cited a study from Bangladesh linking surgical masks to an 11.2 percent decrease in COVID-19 symptoms and antibodies compared to a 5 percent decrease with cloth masks. 

Ms. Tayag recognized factors contributing to the "continued obsession" with cloth masks — such as cost effectiveness and eco-friendliness — and added that public health agencies should have used government resources to combat the shortage.

Linsey Marr, an environmental engineer and aerosol science expert, told Scientific American in a Sept. 30 piece that disposable masks may actually be worn until they become "visibly damaged or soiled." 

The Scientific American piece went on to say, contrary to the start of the pandemic, there is now a "cornucopia" of high-filtration respirator-style masks. The most important considerations for mask effectiveness are filtration, fit and comfort. 

An issue with high filtration masks being commercially available, according to Scientific American, is the reliability of suppliers. Kimberly Prather, an aerosol expert, recommended the suppliers Project N95, Bona Fide Masks and DemeTech.

"Even if a pivot toward surgical masks wouldn’t be some pandemic panacea, America’s mask inertia is in many ways a symptom of the nation’s single-pronged pandemic response," Ms.Tayag wrote. "The country has collectively banked on vaccination to end the pandemic, and one consequence is that attention to other protective measures has lagged."

 

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