GREEN BAY (NBC 26) — With the recent surge of the omicron variant, health experts say it's more important to wear a mask now than ever - but not all masks offer the same level of protection. Recently, some health experts have begun advocating for the use of surgical masks to help stop the spread of the virus.
While cloth masks come in many varieties, experts say surgical masks are more standardized. Surgical masks are better at filtering out particles in comparison to cloth face coverings like bandanas, neck gaiters or single-layer masks that have proven to be less effective.
“There's a lot of variability in cloth masks," said Dr. Dan Shirley, the interim medical director of infection control at UW Health.
"It could be one layer, it could be lots of layers, but just generally speaking a cloth mask is going to let more particles through either from you or in the close proximity coming towards you.”
The CDC recommends both cloth and surgical masks but advises against single-layer cloth masks and cloth masks with exhalation valves or gaps around the sides of the face or nose.
Equally as important as the type of mask that you wear is the fit of your mask. The CDC advises that your mask should fit snugly around your nose and mouth. If your mask is too loose, health experts recommend double masking by wearing a cloth mask on top of a surgical mask for extra protection and a better fit.
Local schools are opting for surgical masks as well. After consulting with local health systems, Green Bay Area Public Schools recently ordered 1 million of the disposable masks for students and staff. At just over 5 cents apiece, the masks will cost over $53,000 of federal money.
“In our dealing with the local medical community, they have said that they think it offers better protection to wear a 3-ply surgical mask than it does to wear a cloth mask,” said procurement director Jake Alverson.
While school officials are encouraging students and staff to wear surgical masks, they are not required.
“Based on what the medical community’s saying, we’d ask that you wear a 3-ply disposable," Alverson said. "If you don’t have one, we’ll provide one. We’re hearing that’s the safest way to go, we want to keep our students safe, so we’ll provide them for you."