Single-layer cloth masks not effective against Omicron, says Ontario science advisory table director

Click to play video: 'Single-cloth masks not effective against Omicron, head of Ontario science table says'
Single-cloth masks not effective against Omicron, head of Ontario science table says
WATCH: We know face masks protect against COVID-19, but how well does your face mask protect against the Omicron variant? – Dec 17, 2021

Depending on which one you have, it turns out one of the oldest tools in our arsenal against COVID-19 may be no match for the Omicron variant, according to one of Ontario’s top doctors.

He is talking about single-layer cloth face masks.

“The issue here is if you have a single-layer, the ability to filtrate is absolutely minimal and doesn’t make a difference whatsoever,” said Dr. Peter Juni, scientific director of Ontario’s Science Advisory Table.

Juni says those masks don’t stand a chance against Omicron which is “four to eight times more infectious than Delta.”

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COVID-19: Tam says community transmission of Omicron variant occurring in Ontario

A better option, he says? Start with a two-layered cloth mask that has been washed, which gives it the capacity to filter better. If you want to go one step further in protection, use a KN95 mask, he says.

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“[KN95] can be a good idea for people who are exposed to a lot of people … this is something that could be important for a bus driver, for a cashier in a supermarket … they have the same sort of filter as an N95.”

N95 respirators are the masks often used in hospitals for health-care workers.

Dr. Juni says you can also double-up with a two-layered cloth mask and a medical-grade mask underneath for added protection.

“All those masks, they have at least two layers — and therefore they filter the small particles much more efficiently out than a single layer mask could possibly do,” said Juni.

How you wear your mask and its fit will also determine its level of effectiveness against Omicron, Juni says.

In a video demonstration with Global News, he said to start with disinfecting your hands before picking up and donning the mask, ensuring the mask sits high up over the bridge of those, covering all the way down to the bottom of the chin, leaving no gaps around the perimeter of the mask. Gaps, he said can make you vulnerable.

“If you have a gap just between the face and the mask, this just means the air merely circulates — there’s no filtration there,” said Juni.

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He also said to choose a mask that fits snugly, with an interior malleable wire on top that “has a possibility to adapt to the shape of your nose” which can be pressed down along the bridge of the nose and across the cheeks to get rid of any gaps.

Then, do the “check.”

“You breathe in,” Dr. Juni demonstrated for Global News during an interview, “and [breathe] out and if you feel that the mask is expanding (in the middle) a bit and collapsing, then you don’t have many gaps.”

In the face of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, Juni also says an upgrade is needed from the province on mask guidance to encourage mask use for gatherings indoors regardless of the distance between one person to another.

“I remember when there was guidance that if you are in a room with other people in a workspace and you have more than two meters distance, you wouldn’t need to wear a mask,” said Dr. Juni. “This wasn’t good guidance at the time on the provincial website and it continues to be not good guidance and of course, now with this much more transmissible variant it’s important to revise that.”

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