Is it time to ditch cloth masks and surgical masks? Here's what a doctor says.

Keys? Check. Phone? Check. Mask? Check. 

Over the past couple of years, wearing a face mask has just become part and parcel of everyday life. 

But as the Omicron strain continues to spread, medical experts are recommending people upgrade their mask protection. More specifically, there has been growing conversation around which masks are most effective in preventing COVID-19 infection.

Watch: Here are some signs to use when talking about COVID. Post continues below.

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While any mask is better than no mask, recent studies have shown that a specific type of mask can prevent the transmission of the Omicron variant better than cloth masks and surgical masks.

So, what is actually the best type of mask to wear to protect yourself from infection? 

We asked GP Dr Imaan Joshi to break it all down.

What is the best face mask to protect against the Omicron virus?

So, will a cloth mask or surgical mask actually protect you from COVID? "Yes, both are better than no mask, when droplets and air can be transmitted greater than two metres, especially when coughing," confirms Dr Joshi.

"[With] Omicron, however, medical advice has again changed in view of how infectious it is - to ditch cloth masks and rely at a minimum, on a three-ply surgical mask or better which significantly reduces transmission."

When it comes to preferred mask usage, Dr Joshi said fit-tested N95/KF94 masks (if you can source and afford them) work better than surgical masks.

"KF94 and N95 masks are equivalent in that they filter out 94 to 95 per cent of particles compared to less for surgical masks, provided the fit is good and it forms a good seal over the face," she said.


Image: Getty 

In order to make sure your mask fits well, it should be molded around the shape of your face and nose, creating a proper seal.

"Check if your mask fits. It should provide a tight seal when worn; you should not be able to see gaps around the nose, cheeks or under the chin."

It's also important to note that while N95/KF94 masks may offer more protection, they are often more expensive and can be increasingly difficult to find.

"Finding masks that fit kids can be more challenging and availability continues to be an issue," said Dr Joshi. 

Can N95s masks be worn more than once?

While most disposable masks are labelled as 'single-use', experts have confirmed that N95/KF94 masks can in fact be worn multiple times.

"N95 masks can also be rotated to minimise cost and waste. Have a few on rotation, and air them out in a paper bag and reuse every four days or so, if able to." 

"Most masks are made for single use but can be worn continuously for many hours at a time, or until soggy."

What if I can't get an N95 mask?

If you can't get hold of an N95 mask or a good quality KF94 mask, Dr Joshi said a surgical mask is the next best option.


"You can tie the loops or use a band to tighten the fit around the cheeks and face, ensure good fit at the bridge of the nose and tuck it well under the chin to get as good a seal as possible,' Dr Joshi adds.

"All of these are still better than cloth masks." 

The biggest mistake you're making with your face mask.

According to Dr Joshi, the most common issue medical experts are seeing with the way masks are worn is poor fit. 

No matter what type of mask you choose, making sure it correctly fits on your face is crucial when it comes to effectiveness.

"Masks are often worn under the nose, or with the mouth exposed, or even under the chin, which render them useless," she said.

"Equally, people often do not tighten the mask over the bridge of the nose and are constantly touching the mask and their face to readjust the mask throughout the day, which increases risk of transmission as well." 

So, it's important to find a face mask that fits well and is comfortable so you actually wear it day-to-day. If you can't wear it or it doesn't fit well on your face, it's not going to provide adequate protection against the virus.

"The best habit, I’ve found, is to put your mask on and then to keep it on without fiddling with it," suggests Dr Joshi.

"In my return to face-to-face work, health care workers like myself minimise our mask-free time at work so as to avoid these risks." 

Dr Joshi said she's also vigilant around what kind of setting she's in - avoiding mask-free time in smaller spaces.

"Additionally, avoid tea rooms and other similar areas and avoid drinking at work, at the desk or around other people where masks are off and you’re congregating in an indoor, often poorly ventilated space and talking and eating. Be vigilant around how much mask-free time you’re having, especially around others and indoors." 

"We are hopeful the Omicron wave has peaked, with hospital numbers to follow sooner than later, but we can expect a spike with the return to school."

"Even if things settle for a bit, it’ll be a series of waves until the next variant, so practising 'Vaccines-Plus' is a habit that will serve all of us well for some time to come yet."

Feature image: Getty