(CNN) — The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its information on masks this Friday, clarifying that certain types of masks and respirators offer more protection against the coronavirus than others and offering advice on what consumers should look for when buying them.
“The use of masks is a critical public health tool to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and it is important to remember that wearing any mask is better than not wearing any,” the CDC said in a statement.
The updated guidelines recommend that Americans wear the most protective mask or respirator they can find, that fits well, and that they will wear consistently.
“Some masks and respirators offer higher levels of protection than others, and some may be more difficult to tolerate or wear consistently than others,” the new guidelines say. “The most important thing is to correctly wear a well-fitting mask or respirator that is comfortable for you and provides good protection.”
The information had last been updated in October. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday that the agency was planning to update the guidelines to reflect the options that are available and the levels of protection that different masks provide.
“Loose cloth products offer the least protection, thin layered knit products offer the most protection, well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN95s offer even more protection, and respirators approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health ( including N95s) that fit snugly offer the highest level of protection,” says the CDC.
The updated guidelines note that “a highly protective mask or respirator may be more important for certain higher-risk situations, or by some people at higher risk for serious illness.” This includes:
- When you are caring for someone who has covid-19
- When you are on a plane or public transport, especially for a long period
- When you work in a position where you are in contact with many people, especially when not everyone is wearing a mask
- If you are not up to date with your covid-19 vaccinations
- If you have a risk factor for serious illness, such as a weakened immune system or certain medical conditions
- When you are in a crowded public place, whether outdoors or indoors
Tips to better protect yourself with the mask
Masks are not yet recommended for children under the age of 2, but the CDC “recommends universal mask wearing indoors for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to elementary and secondary schools, regardless of age.” vaccination status or transmission rates in the area.
The updated guidelines offer tips for better protection, such as:
- Wear two masks (one cloth over one disposable)
- Combining a cloth or disposable mask with a fitter
- Fold and tuck the excess material of disposable masks under the edges.
- Wearing masks that are fastened behind the head and neck with elastic bands or ties (instead of on the ears)
The CDC says consumers looking for masks that meet quality standards can look for certain labels such as “conforms to ASTM F3502” or “conforms to workplace performance,” and can go to a CDC website. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for more information on personal protective equipment.
The agency also says certain respirators don’t meet international standards and has links to sites for more details.
N95s specially labeled “surgical” “should be reserved for use by healthcare personnel,” the CDC says.
“These updates to our website reflect the science on mask use, including what we have learned over the last two years,” the agency said in the statement.