Single-layer cloth masks may not provide adequate protection against the very infectious omicron variant of COVID-19, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report.

Many infectious disease experts noted people prefer cloth masks because they are more comfortable and fashionable to wear, but these masks can only block larger droplets of COVID-19, not smaller aerosols or particles that can also carry the virus.

The Mayo Clinic is now requiring all patients and visitors to wear surgical masks, N95 or KN95 masks, so if anyone wears a single-layer, homemade cloth mask or bandanna, they will be given a medical-grade one to wear over it, the report said.

N95 mask 

N95 mask  (iStock)

Surgical masks block the COVID-19 virus through its polypropylene electrostatic charge characteristics, while N95 masks have a tighter mesh of fibers than surgical or cloth masks with also electrostatic charge characteristics, which allows the mask to be most efficient at blocking inhaled and exhaled particles.

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, still recommends N95 masks only for health care workers, advising people instead to wear instead cloth masks that have two (or more) layers of fabric that completely cover the face and mouth, fit ‘snugly’ against the sides of the face (without any gaps) that also has a nose wire to prevent air leaking from the top of the mask.

But Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, said, "If everyone is just wearing a cloth mask or just a surgical mask, it won’t make any difference" against the omicron variant.

"If you really want no exposure, you have to wear the right type of mask."

An N95 air filter mask.

An N95 air filter mask. (iStock)

Gandhi recommends N95 masks, KN95, KF94 and FFP2 masks (out which only N95 masks are certified in the United States), but if those are not available, recommends double masking with a multilayered cloth mask over surgical mask, but others experts say surgical masks may offer protection, but more research is needed to know if they will protect against the very contagious omicron variant.

"Any mask is better than no mask. But cloth masks and then surgical masks are not as good as N95-caliber masks," said Dr. Ranu Dhillon, a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Click here for CDC’s guide to masks regarding COVID-19.