WASHINGTON: The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reminded the public on Saturday that masks offer the best protection against all Covid-19 variants.

“Masking is a critical public health tool for preventing spread of Covid-19, and it is important to remember that any mask is better than no mask,” the primary US health agency said.

In an interview to NBC News, Dr Ranu Dhillon, a global health physician at the Harvard Medical School, said that the guidance was long overdue.

“We really need to go a step further and say this is the standard we should be aiming for,” he said. “CDC should have come out in front of this two years ago.”

Tara Smith, a professor of epidemiology at the Kent State University College of Public Health in Ohio, urged the US government to arrange for free distribution of high-quality masks among those who could not afford it.

The CDC guidance followed a sudden rise in Covid-19 cases across the globe. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported this week that they had already recorded more than 15 million cases of a new Covid-19 variant, known as Omicron.

“And this is an underestimate,” WHO warned. “Even though omicron is less severe than delta, it is still putting people in the hospital. It is still putting people into ICU. It is still killing people.”

Responding to this sudden increase in Omicron infections, the CDC advised people “to wear the mask that fits well and that you will wear consistently.”

The CDC said that a well-fitted mask can “reduce the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, when worn consistently and correctly.”

The CDC urged people to wear N95 and KN95 masks, if they can, because they offer the best protection against Covid-19.

Previously, the US health agency urged people not to wear N95 or KN95s as those higher-quality masks were needed by health workers.

The latest message said that shortages were no longer a concern. The agency explained that “some masks and respirators may be harder to tolerate or wear consistently” and that’s why it was “most important to wear a well-fitted mask or respirator correctly that is comfortable for you and that provides good protection.”

Stressing the need to find a properly fitted mask or respirator, the agency said that “wearing a highly protective mask or respirator may be most important for certain higher risk situations, or by some people at increased risk for severe disease.”

Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2022

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