WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a new recommendation for an old tool.
The more contagious omicron variant is prompting a call to use more protective masks, but it has also caused prices to soar for some of them.
The CDC said that cloth masks are no longer as effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19, now recommending everyone to wear a N95 or KN95 mask.
The CDC said that multi-layer cloth masks do not provide enough protection against omicron.
"Normally scientific facts come out after scrupulous data analysis 10 times, 20 times, back and forth," said infectious disease specialist Dr. Ramprasad Gopalan. "We don't have time for that because this thing is coming at us."
Gopalan said since there is a federal stockpile of N95 masks and high transmission of omicron, the CDC is strongly encouraging people to use N95s or KN95s instead of cloth.
"The size of the particle it filters in an N95 is obviously way superior to a cloth mask," Gopalan said.
But since that recommendation, prices for the masks have soared online.
On Amazon, MedicPro N95 masks are going for $120 for a pack of 50.
A pack of 10 or 20 from other manufacturers can cost $30 and up.
Some pharmacy websites don't even have the N95 or KN95 in stock.
Jean Tiwari said her son was able to find them online.
"I just got it yesterday, so I'm going to start wearing it," Tiwari said.
Starting next week the federal government plans to send 400 million N95s from a stockpile reserve to local pharmacies and community health centers for free distribution.
"We have to think about the other people around us. If that is more effective, then why can't we do that?" Tiwari asked.
The CDC said cloth masks can still provide some protection as long as they are fitted.
"The goal is to make sure you cover both your nose, your mouth and there are no leaks, and it fits against your side of the cheek perfectly well," Gopalan said.
The doctor said you can wear the N95 masks more than once, as long as it's not soiled and you do not fold or crumble it.
He said it's not a good idea to hang the mask from a rearview mirror. Instead, he advised putting it away in a paper bag for re-use.