(CNN) – Health care workers vividly remember the anxiety surrounding mask access in the early days of the pandemic. The shortages of personal protective equipment in hospitals were so severe that it was an all-too-common occurrence to walk into work, only to find that there were no available N95 respirators in your size.
Hospitals did their best to come up with solutions to circumvent this shortage — including recommending repetitive use, performing ultraviolet light cleanings of used masks and simply rationing — but we still remember the stress of feeling physically under-protected.
Thankfully, as we enter year three of the pandemic, access to masks in the health care setting has improved. However, the Omicron variant has led to some of the highest daily case counts since the start of the pandemic and many states are utilizing greater than 70% of their inpatient and intensive care unit beds. The rapidly infectious nature of Omicron has made many public health leaders reconsider the approach to masking for the general public.
On Friday, the CDC updated its mask guidance for preventing the spread of Covid-19. The agency provided additional information about the various types of masks that are available and in which circumstances each type is appropriate. Overall, it is recommended that individuals wear masks that “fit well” and that they will “wear consistently,” with the understanding that higher quality masks like N95s and KN95s will offer more protection than a simple cloth mask if worn correctly.