As Omicron spreads, when should you consider upgrading your mask?

Medical grade face mask
Medical grade face mask
Published: Jan. 11, 2022 at 6:13 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 11, 2022 at 7:01 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - As COVID cases continue to rise across the country, CDC officials are thinking about changing its recommendations when it comes to masking.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the CDC’s mask recommendation on its website has not changed. However, it could change by asking people to wear higher-grade masks with better filtration to deal with the highly contagious omicron surge.

“It’s not that you need 100 percent filtration because masking is only one part of what we are talking about, you know, it’s hard to avoid everything. No mask fits perfectly nor can you wear a mask 24/7,” said Dr. Dan Shirley. “I think it’s definitely being thoughtful about ‘I need a well-fitting mask that I can wear all the time when in some kind of risk’ and then judging on that risk when you need a higher level or lower-level mask.”

Shirley said it’s hard to decide which type of mask to wear and when because there are so many factors that play into the decision.

“It really does matter on the situation. I think it would be smart to have something around so as you get in those positions, you can kind of choose which mask to use,” said Dr. Shirley.

For example, if you are at a basketball game and sitting around people cheering and yelling, it’s probably a good idea to upgrade your mask to a higher-filtration one like an N95. However, if you are at work and everyone around you is vaccinated, you may not need a medical-grade mask all the time.

“It’s complicated,” said Shirley, interim medical director for Infection Prevention at UW-Health. “It’s not a clear-cut answer that everybody should be wearing N95 (masks) around all the time; that’s probably overkill. But what we should focus on is as many people masking as we can while we’re going through this massive surge, and then everyone, to the extent that they can, get a well-fitting mask.”

Shirley said the same goes for kids.

“There hasn’t been as much time spent on designing well-fitted masks for kids, so I think the main barrier is that we’re trying to force adult masks on kids,” said Shirley. “Especially when we’re talking about these higher-level masks. that’s not something that’s common for kids at all.”

If you decide to get an N95 mask, make sure it is fitted to your face, secure around your mouth and pinched at the nose. If you are using a looser fitting mask, you can twist the ear loops and fold in the sides to make it fit better.

“Even in health care we, on any given day, wear different levels of mask depending on the risk of whatever we are going into, so it’s not so easy to say everyone needs N95 and rush out to get those,” said Dr. Shirley.

Over the past week, Milwaukee handed out thousands of N95 masks to the community. Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers said the state has more of those masks if other municipalities would like to do the same thing.

“Absolutely, we have a stockpile of them. So government agencies and other agencies should just contact our office. We provided 500,000 to Milwaukee and in addition, we gave some to Milwaukee Public Schools to make sure they can be safe when they reopen in the near future. People who want to distribute them just contact our office. We have a supply.”

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