Which Mask Works Best on Omicron Variant?

An infectious disease specialist at UCSD health says your best bet against the virus is wearing a respiratory mask

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Less than two years ago, the majority of San Diegans had never worn a mask. Now 21 months into the pandemic and with a new variant wreaking havoc across the nation, health experts want you to take mask-wearing more seriously.

“Omicron has multiple mutations in it and so the targets for the vaccines have changed a little bit and so the vaccines are not predicted to work as well as they have been for Alpha, Beta and Delta variants, all the variants prior to this,” said Shira Abeles, MD, infectious disease specialist at UCSD health.

Variants have changed our reality. The delta variant was nearly twice as contagious as the original strain and while it's too early to say, experts believe the omicron variant could be even more contagious. 

Abeles says a basic cloth mask isn’t going to cut it anymore.

“You have an indoor location, not good circulation, maybe you don't know if people are vaccinated or not and you just have cloth masks and you're in kind of a stuffy room, yeah, it's gonna fail sooner than a very tightly filtering mask,” said Abeles.

Abeles says both cloth and surgical masks only work well if everyone in the room is wearing them properly. This means covering both the nose and the mouth and fitting tightly on the person's face.

“But if somebody is unmasked and quite contagious, then those can fail more likely than those respirators,” said Abeles.

She says your best bet against the virus is wearing a respiratory mask.

“Some of it is the fit, that there's no kind of creases, allowing you to exhale or inhale air that's in there, unfiltered, but the other is the filtration,” said Abeles.

Now, once you have the right mask, Abeles says there are still other layers of protections you also need to consider.

“I would recommend testing, making sure everyone's vaccinated, encouraging everyone to get boosted and if someone has a symptom, you know, they really have to consider not joining the family,” said Abeles.

While this year's holiday season is shaping up to be less restrictive than last year, caution is still highly recommended.

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