TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Masks made out of cloth may be the best-looking and easiest to find, but health experts say they aren’t very protective against the COVID-19 omicron variant.
The Pima County Health Department is not actively enforcing its mask mandate passed in late December, but it is urging people to cover up in public, ideally with something better than a cloth mask.
Deputy Director Paula Mandel says people should keep Fit, Function and Filtration in mind when it comes to masks.
“What studies are showing right now is that the N95, the KN95 and the KF94 are the best for filtration of the virus particles,” she told KGUN9 Friday. “But not everybody has the opportunity to purchase those type of masks.”
Those high-grade masks are generally more expensive and more difficult to find in stores.
Mandel says surgical masks are a middle tier option for people.
“Your surgical masks and your KN95s have more layers, typically three layers,” she said. “So that is a better barrier.”
Mandel also suggests double-masking if people are using cloth masks.
“If your surgical mask fits well, a surgical mask is fine on its own,” she said. “Cloth masks alone, we really want you to consider double-masking. If you can get a surgical mask and do a cloth mask over it, that would be better than just a cloth mask alone.”
Unlike cloth masks, however, surgical masks cannot be washed and re-used over and over.
“If [a surgical mask] becomes soiled, if you sneeze in it, if you cough in your mask, then you want to throw that mask away and you wanna gain a new one,” Mandel explained. “Typically, I would encourage people to use a new mask a day, and I know that sounds like a lot. But you just don’t know sometimes if it’s been soiled or if it’s still providing the best protection.”
The health department stresses during the current Omicron surge, any mask is better than no mask—especially when inside and near other people.
“It’s not only protecting yourself, but others,” Mandel said.