Which mask should you wear for the best protection?

Posted at 7:16 PM, Jan 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-07 00:20:43-05

California's statewide mask mandate was originally set to expire on January 15 but has been extended to February 15 as COVID-19 cases spike due to the Omicron variant.

When it comes to the type of mask you wear, experts say it’s all about assessing your own risk. Ask yourself if you'll be indoors or outdoors, how many people will there be, and do you know their vaccination status?

All those factors can help you decide which mask will provide the most protection for you in that scenario.

“When those risks get up there, you raise your level of protection to match it," said Dr. Brian Roberts, Med Stop Medical Director.

With this new variant, a cloth mask alone might not be sufficient protection.

“With the omicron, though, we are really recommending people to take an extra step. Either wear a medical-grade mask underneath a cloth or switch to a medical-grade mask," said Dr. Scott Robertson, Dignity Health.

If you are looking into buying surgical masks, experts say to pay close attention to the rating level.

“The surgical masks are rated. You have level one and the best is level three. They give very good moisture control and fairly good particle filtration, although not the smallest particles. I like them in combination with a cloth mask," said Dr. Roberts.

A study done in spring 2021 prior to the Delta and Omicron variants looked at the different times it takes for an infected individual to transmit the virus to an uninfected person. It found the N95 masks offer the highest level of protection when fitted correctly on an individual.

Here's one way experts say you can tell if your mask is fitting correctly —

“If you’re at home and have an N95 mask and you put it on as best you could, then open up a jar of coffee or a jar of vanilla beans, and if you can clearly smell it, that mask is not fitted as well as it should," said Dr. Roberts.