[COVIDWatch] Do N95 masks better protect wearers against the Omicron variant than surgical masks?

By December 7, 2021 December 9th, 2021 COVID-19, Health

With concerns growing over the Omicron variant and its reported increase in transmissibility compared to other Covid-19 variants, questions have arisen over which type of masks are best at providing protection against the Omicron variant.

According to a member of the National Institute of Health (NIH), masks work just as well against any disease that is spread via droplets and aerosols, and there’s no indication that Omicron is spread in a different way than earlier variants of the virus. The recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), regarding masks have similarly not changed since the discovery of this new Covid-19 variant.

National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) approved N95 respirator masks are considered the masks which offer the highest degrees of protection, followed by KN95 masks, surgical masks, and finally cloth masks falling significantly behind the aforementioned three masks. Dr Tom Frieden, former director of CDC tweeted likewise, with N95 masks deemed the most protective masks available.

N95 vs surgical masks?

While conducting research on the pros and cons of N95 and surgical masks in terms of filtration efficiency and overall protection against the Omicron variant. We found that although N95 masks were considered the most protective, the Singaporean National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) and the CDC both recommended surgical masks instead for the general public.

According to both institutes, while both the N95 masks and surgical masks are highly effective in filtering out airborne particles, the difference between the two lies in their ease of use. While surgical masks can simply be worn and are effective at blocking airborne particles due to their 3-ply construction, N95 masks require an elaborate fit test to ensure maximum efficacy. It is for this reason that surgical masks are recommended for members of the general public, with the seal of the N95 masks being essential in ensuring that it does in fact provide the 95% coverage stated.

Taking all this into account, it is difficult to determine if there is in fact an appreciable difference between N95 masks and regular surgical masks, especially with the Omicron variant where information about it is currently unavailable. While the N95 mask is deemed more protective compared to the surgical mask, the difficulty in fitting it to ensure optimal coverage has made the surgical mask a safer option for the public. Based on the evidence available then, it is false that there is an appreciable difference between the N95 mask and surgical masks in terms of efficiency. The public is thus encouraged to rely on 3 ply surgical masks for protection against the Omicron variant considering the recommendations of the NCID and CDC.

Leave a Reply