With Omicron continuing to surge and business not slowing down, it may be time to ask employees to wear more protective masks.
On January 14, 2022 the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidance regarding masks to clarify that some types of masks and respirators provide more protection than others. While loosely woven cloth masks provide some protection, well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN95s offer even more protection. Other well-fitting National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health-approved respirators, including N95s, offer the highest protection.
That said, the best mask is one “that you will wear and the one you can keep on all day long, that you can tolerate in public indoor settings,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said last week.
“Some masks and respirators offer higher levels of protection than others and some may be harder to tolerate or wear consistently than others,” the CDC wrote in the updated guidance. “It is most important to wear a well-fitting mask or respirator correctly, that is comfortable for you, and that provides good protection.”
The good news is that masks with higher protection are now more available. The Biden administration announced on Wednesday a plan to give out 400 million N95 face masks for free to the public through pharmacies and community health centers starting next week, with more available in early February. The administration is also offering free at-home Covid tests which you can request through a government website and phone number. You can also get up to eight free rapid tests covered through private insurance.
You can can also purchase face coverings for employees. N95 or KN95 masks are more widely available now than at any other time during the pandemic, though they are often more costly than less-protective surgical masks or cloth masks. You can buy a box of 25 KN95 masks on Amazon for around $30, while a pack of 50 surgical masks costs $10 to $25.
Additional health protections will likely play an even larger role in the workplace, as the U.S. Supreme Court last week the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for employers with at least 100 employees. So unless you decide to mandate the vaccine anyway, which legally you can still do in certain states, taking the step of upping your mask game may be even more integral to the health and wellness of your team. If a large portion of your staff is unvaccinated, of if you have immunocompromised employees in the workplace, it may be a good idea to ask staff to wear more protective face coverings.ruled against