KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 11 ― With the Omicron variant known to be highly transmissible, there has been a lot of chatter ― both virtual and in real life ― about which mask is more effective.
Two years into the pandemic, Malaysians have gone through a whole array of masks: surgical, cloth, face shields, three-ply, four-ply, and so on.
Experts say three-ply face masks, when worn properly, are sufficient to guard against possible Covid-19 infection.
Speaking to the Malay Mail, an epidemiologist and an infectious diseases expert said the issue really is wearing masks that fit properly.
“Enough for the community. But must be worn properly,” Sungai Buloh Hospital’s infectious diseases specialist Dr Yasmin Gani said when commenting about three-ply surgical masks.
“Generally similar masking is recommended and is sufficient in the community. The problem is no one wears it properly. There are ways to make this more effective,” she said, adding that face masks with higher filtration rates are, however, usually recommended for patient care.
Dr Yasmin explained that face masks with a higher filtration rate are those which have an FFP value of two and above. FFP refers to the filtering facepiece.
Epidemiologist Dr Nirmala Bhoo-Pathy also agreed, adding that other hygiene measures such as regular washing of hands and physical distancing also plays a crucial role in battling Covid-19.
“I don’t think it’s necessary. A properly fitting three-ply or double masking is good enough. Just as important is hand washing, and avoiding crowded or confined spaces,” she explained when asked if it was necessary to change to N95s or other types of masks.
“People seem to be forgetting this and taking it easy. Good fit is important,” the Universiti Malaya (UM) associate professor with the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine said.
CNN reported some experts saying that it is high time to reconsider the cloth variety.
“Cloth masks are little more than facial decorations. There’s no place for them in light of Omicron,” CNN Medical Analyst Dr Leana Wen, an emergency physician and visiting professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, was reported saying.
She added that ideally, KN95 or N95 masks should be worn in crowded places, for better filtration.
In May last year, with new and more aggressive variants of the Covid-19 virus in the country, Health Director-General Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah had advised Malaysians to take additional safety measures when out in high-risk public areas like a hospital.
“It is recommended to wear a double face mask and face shield in high-risk places such as hospitals,” he said.
Double masking is recommended simply to help close the gaps left by surgical masks which tend to gap at the sides. That is why experts suggested using a cloth mask over surgical masks last year.
There are now masks that are close fitting and sit flat on the face. With those, there is no need to wear a cloth mask on top.
Earlier this week, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said Malaysia cannot afford, in the economic and welfare aspects, to implement a lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19.
He said on the other hand, the government’s strategy to contain the pandemic was to implement mitigation strategies.