The CDC Doesn't Recommend This One Type of Face Mask

The infectious disease agency says this kind of PPE is "hard to tolerate."

When it comes to masking up to protect yourself and others from the spread of the coronavirus, the kind of mask you choose to wear matters. As new highly contagious variants of COVID spread around the world and across the U.S., some experts have begun to question whether a higher-quality mask might be needed to keep people safe. But according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there's still one medical-grade piece of PPE that they don't recommend for use by the general public: the N95 mask. Read on to see why the top health agency still isn't telling people to wear to the coveted face coverings, and for more on PPE you may need to upgrade, check out If You Have This Mask, Get a New One Now, Experts Say.

N95s can be hard to wear all day long.

N95 PPE protective mask resting on blue medical scrubs with copy space
iStock

During a virtual town hall hosted by CNN's Anderson Cooper and Sanjay Gupta, MD, on Jan. 27, CDC director Rochelle Walensky, MD, was asked whether or not the masks people currently use would be enough to protect against the new, more transmissible COVID variants that are continuing to spread. She replied that, while N95s are an incredibly effective option, her concern is that they might not be used properly if they were to become the agency's recommended form of PPE.

"I have spent a reasonable about of time in an N95 mask, [and] they are hard to tolerate all day, every day," Walensky explained. "When you really think about how well people will wear them, I worry if we suggest or demand they wear them, they won't wear them all the time. They're very hard to breathe when you wear them properly, [and] they're very hard to tolerate when you wear them for long periods of time." And for the masks you absolutely should avoid, check out The CDC Warns Against Using These 6 Face Masks.

Other protective measures work as well as an N95.

A young couple sitting on a bunch wearing face masks distances themselves from another person on the other end of the bench.
Shutterstock

Still, Walensky explained that the highly protective masks—which the CDC currently advises the public not to use to ensure there's enough supply for frontline healthcare workers—are far from the only way to keep yourself safe. Simply social distancing while wearing a non-N95 face covering can be just as effective.

"I do think that if everybody is wearing a mask—if you're wearing it, you're six feet apart, and anybody else you're with is also wearing a mask—then you have enough protective efficacy in the barriers of those two masks and the space between you that you probably don't need it," Walensky explained. And for more on which types of face coverings you should be avoiding, find out why This One Type of Face Mask Is "Unacceptable," Warns the Mayo Clinic.

Dr. Fauci says that mask-wearing in any form is among the most effective ways to stop COVID.

A group of teenagers wearing face masks outdoors.
iStock

Fellow virtual town hall participant Anthony Fauci, MD, chief medical adviser to the White House, also elaborated on the agency's policies, emphasizing that "the most important thing is that everybody should be wearing a mask. The CDC does not recommend that you must wear two masks, nor does the CDC recommend that you have to wear an N95 mask. They just say the most important thing is to get everybody to wear a mask."

While the CDC may not explicitly be recommending wearing two masks at once, Fauci did previously discuss the emerging practice during a Jan. 25 interview on Today, supporting the concept. "If you have a physical covering with one layer, you put another layer on," Fauci said. "It just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective." And for more regular COVID updates, sign up for our daily newsletter.

The CDC says the right kind of cloth mask is still acceptable.

A middle-aged woman in a yellow shirt smiles while wearing a cloth face mask
iStock

Walensky emphasized that the widespread use of simple cloth face coverings is still an effective deterrent against COVID. "Everybody should be wearing a mask," she said, adding that "if you're wearing a cloth mask, it should be a multilayered mask so that you have several layers of protection."

According to the CDC's website, the public is encouraged to wear more than one layer of fabric for better protection. "Masks with at least two layers of fabric are most likely to reduce the spread of COVID-19 when they are widely used by people in public settings," the agency says. And for more on how to get the most out of your PPE, Doing This to Your Mask Could Keep You Even Safer From COVID, Experts Say.

Best Life is constantly monitoring the latest news as it relates to COVID-19 in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed. Here are the answers to your most burning questions, the ways you can stay safe and healthy, the facts you need to know, the risks you should avoid, the myths you need to ignore,and the symptoms to be aware of. Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.
Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
Filed Under