ST. LOUIS — In light of omicron, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is actively looking into updating its mask guidance.
The Washington Post reported Monday that the CDC may change its mask recommendation to higher quality face coverings like KN95 or N95 masks.
Meghan Ames, a pediatric nurse practitioner with Urgent Care for Kids in Wentzville said, "The best mask is a KN95 or N95. That's the gold standard."
That's because these masks, which are close-fitting filtration devices, block at least 95% of airborne particles.
The difference between a KN95 and N95 is where they are made.
N95s are the U.S. standard and KN95s are the Chinese standard. Both are made to filter the same amount, which is 95%.
At the start of the pandemic, there was a shortage of personal protective equipment and because of that, the CDC authorized the use of KN95s as a suitable alternative for N95 masks.
Making the shift already is Congress, which is starting to provide KN95 masks to House staff and lawmakers.
In the St. Louis area, all Mercy Hospitals are requiring everyone in the hospital to wear an N95, KN95 or medical-grade face masks.
The change is due to the highly contagious omicron variant.
Ames said there are different tiers for masks.
"If you have a tie surgical mask that you can get a better fit, it’s higher than a surgical mask with the ear loops and last is a cloth mask," she said.
What if you can't find certain face coverings?
Ames advised doubling up, with a surgical mask beneath your cloth mask.
"If you all you have is a cloth mask, then double up on a cloth mask," she said.
Adding more layers reduces the number of respiratory droplets coming through.
None of these masks matter, though, if you don't wear them correctly.
"It has to fit well," Mercy Hospital's Department of Medicine Chair Dr. Farrin Manian said, "otherwise I don't care what kind of mask you wear, it's just not going to work very well."
"It needs to be around the face, no gaping and if you can get a metal piece that’s closer to the nose, that will give you better protection," she said. "If you have a mask by tying the loops around your ears tighter, that will be a better fit."
But doctors remind you, any mask is better than no mask at all.
"Wearing a mask as much as possible is recommended. Right now, it’s hard and we don’t know who’s infected until they are showing symptoms and you can get it from anywhere," Ames said.
You can clean and reuse your KN95 or N95 mask by storing it in a paper bag for a day or two in a dry place.
Keeping it in a dry environment is important so the virus does not spread or stay on the mask.