US encourages N95 mask use to prevent Omicron spread
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New York: US health officials on Friday encouraged more Americans to wear the kind of N95 or KN95 masks used by health-care workers to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Those kinds of masks are considered better at filtering the air. But they were in short supply previously, and Centres for Disease Control and Prevention officials had said they should be prioritised for health care workers.
A registered nurse wears an N95 mask.Credit:AP
In updated guidance posted on Saturday AEST, CDC officials removed concerns related to supply shortages and more clearly said that properly fitted N95 and KN95 masks offer the most protection.
However, agency officials noted some masks are harder to tolerate than others, and urged people to choose good-fitting masks that they will wear consistently.
“Our main message continues to be that any mask is better than no mask,” Kristen Nordlund, a CDC spokeswoman, said in a statement.
The CDC has evolved its mask guidance throughout the pandemic.
A nurse pulls on a new N95 mask.Credit:AP
In its last update, in September, CDC officials became more encouraging of disposable N95 masks, saying they could be used in certain situations if supplies were available. Examples included being near a lot of people for extended periods of time on a train, bus or airplane; taking care of someone in poor health; or being more susceptible to severe illness.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced that his administration was planning to make “high-quality masks,” including N95s, available for free. He said more details were coming next week. The federal government has a stockpile of more than 750 million N95 masks, the White House said.
The latest CDC guidance notes that there is a special category of “surgical N95” masks, that are specially designed for protection against blood splashes and other operating room hazards. Those are not generally available for sale to the public, and should continue to be reserved for health care workers, the agency said.
President Biden’s administration is also working to make COVID-19 rapid test kits more available and accessible to Americans by boosting supply and lowering costs.
A new federal website to request free test kits will launch on Wednesday, with the first shipments going out to Americans by the end of the month.
In addition, most Americans will be able to get reimbursed for tests that they purchase starting Saturday.
The White House says “tests will typically ship within 7-12 days of ordering” through the US Postal Service.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at-home testing when people experience COVID-19 systems including fever, cough, sore throat, respiratory symptoms and muscle aches; five days after a potential COVID-19 exposure; or as part of test-to-stay protocols in schools and workplaces.
The White House says that “to promote broad access,” shipments from covidtests.gov will initially be limited to four rapid tests per residential address, no matter the number of occupants.
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