Medical experts say these masks give highest level of protection against COVID-19

CHARLOTTE — There may still be some questions about how to protect one another from spreading the omicron variant of the coronavirus. Medical experts urge everyone to use N95 and KN95 masks instead of cloth masks because they provide a higher level of protection.

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“N95 masks are referred to sometimes as respirators,” said Dr. Emily Sickbert-Bennett, an associate professor of infectious diseases at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Sickbert-Bennett said the most important criterion for wearing a mask is how well it fits, which means sealed around the nose and cheek. If the mask has a gap at the top of the nose and its gaping at the sides, there really is no benefit of a higher-level filtration mask, she said.

Sickbert-Bennett said that surgical masks work fine, especially if worn with a cloth mask over them because it helps achieve a tighter fit.

“So, we really do have to look at the mask as sort of the belt and suspenders approach,” she said. “Here we have the vaccines onboard that are serving a really important purpose, but we need those masks when we’re going to take part in social activities.”

The virus is now “extraordinarily contagious” and previous mitigation measures that used to help now may not be as helpful, CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner told CNN.

“At the beginning of this pandemic... we all were taught, you have a significant exposure if you’re within six feet of somebody and you’re in contact with them for more than 15 minutes. All these rules are out the window,” Reiner said. “This is a hyper-contagious virus.”

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Now, even a quick, transient encounter can lead to an infection, Reiner added, including if someone’s mask is loose, or a person quickly pulls their mask down, or an individual enters an elevator in which someone else has just coughed.

“This is how you can contract this virus,” Reiner said.

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CNN contributed to this report.

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