If You Have This Mask, Get a New One Now, Experts Say

Allie Hogan
·3 min read

Nearly a year into the pandemic, many people have settled into their mask habits. If the mask you've been using has kept you safe from COVID thus far, that's probably the face covering you plan to stick with. For many Americans, cloth masks—widely available in stores and online—have become the standard. However, over the past couple weeks, many experts have been cautioning against cloth masks, and are now urging people to swap out fabric masks with a covering that offers fuller protection. To see why you should get rid of your cloth mask, read on, and for more essential mask guidance, The CDC Warns Against Using These 6 Face Masks.

France's Health Minister just cautioned the public against using cloth masks.

Woman wearing a mask
Woman wearing a mask

France's Health Minister Olivier Veran was very vocal about his professional opinion on fabric face masks while on France Inter radio on Jan. 19. "Artisan masks that you make at home, with the best intentions in the world, respecting the official advice, do not necessarily offer all the necessary guarantees," Veran said. The Health Minister would prefer people opt for more protective masks. "All masks which have a filtering power greater than 90 percent are valid—that includes almost all surgical masks for the general public," he added.

Veran's comments come after France's health council made it clear on Jan. 18 that they advise against fabric masks, especially with the more transmissible strains of COVID making the rounds. "When it comes to the penetration of certain new variants [which are more contagious] the question is raised of what kind of mask to recommend to the general public," Didier Lepelletier, PhD, said on BFM TV. He explained that many people prefer cloth masks because they are reusable, but they don't provide the necessary level of protection against new COVID strains. And for more up-to-date information, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Other experts in the U.S. have also been calling for higher quality masks.

Man making masks for COVID
Man making masks for COVID

Ashish Jha, MD, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said we need to step up mask quality in America. During a Jan. 8 interview with NBC, he discussed how to mitigate the spread of the new variants and cited the use of better masks. "High-quality masks are really important," Jha noted. "We've not done much to make masks high quality—that's something we still need to work on." And for more on staying healthy, If You're Not Doing This, Your Mask Won't Protect You, Study Says.

A former FDA commissioner is recommending the use of more effective masks, too.

three friends in brightly colored shirts standing in school building wearing masks and holding notebooks
three friends in brightly colored shirts standing in school building wearing masks and holding notebooks

While speaking with CBS on Jan. 17, Scott Gottlieb, MD, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said people shouldn't be using just any mask to avoid the new COVID strains, but rather opting for highly protective masks. "The quality of the masks really matters right now," Gottlieb said. "If you wear a higher quality mask with this new infection, that's going to be very important." And for more advice on avoiding coronavirus, Doing This to Your Mask Could Keep You Even Safer From COVID, Experts Say.

Cloth masks were only supposed to be used at the beginning of the pandemic.

Young woman using protective face mask at home during coronavirus pandemic.
Young woman using protective face mask at home during coronavirus pandemic.

Researchers Zeynep Tufekci, PhD, and Jeremy Howard wrote an article for The Atlantic pointing out that fabric masks were only meant to be used during the mad dash for protection at the onset of COVID. "Cloth masks, especially homemade ones, were supposed to be a stopgap measure," they wrote. "We'd hoped that by 2021, supply chains would have ramped up enough to ensure that everyone had better masks."

At the beginning of the pandemic, frontline workers were experiencing a shortage of higher-grade masks. During that time, any mask was better than no mask, which warranted the use of fabric masks. But as the researchers point out, "there are better possibilities now." And for more face coverings to avoid, This Type of Face Mask Isn't Protecting You From COVID, WHO Warns.