Your cloth mask is no longer cutting it: What Madison doctors say you should be using instead

MADISON, Wis.– For two years, we’ve been hearing how important it is to wear a mask to protect ourselves and others against COVID-19. But with the rapidly-spreading Omicron variant, doctors say cloth masks are no longer cutting it.

“We are encouraging people to change from the cloth mask to more of a surgical mask,” SSM Health Dr. David Ottenbaker explained. “We know a lot more about this virus now than we did a year ago.”

Ottenbaker says the science shows cloth masks are significantly less effective against omicron, a finding supported by researchers nationwide.

“The typical cloth mask is about 50% effective, and while that was okay before, it doesn’t seem to be enough with omicron,” Dr. Linsey Marr, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech, told CBS News. “We have special masks called respirators, such as N95 masks, that offer much greater protection. They’re able to block 95% of particles that are either going out of your mouth or that you’re breathing in.”

When it comes to masks, it’s all about filters and fit.

“What you need is a good seal around your nose,” Marr added. “There are ways to really improve the performance of a surgical mask by improving its fit. One way is to use some little kind of clips or toggle the ear loops so you can tighten it up and pull it closer to your face.”

But these masks are also only good if you can find them.

Right now, Madison-area hospitals and clinics are giving all patients surgical masks when they visit their facilities. The Boys & Girls Club of Dane County recently secured 200,000 masks for local students and teachers, which they plan to begin distributing Wednesday.

“We’re strongly encouraging people to use surgical masks because they have been proven more effective,” said Ottenbaker.

You can also find surgical masks from a number of retailers at a range of prices online. Click here for a list of options.