The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its masking guidelines to guard against COVID-19 and its variants.

According to the CDC's most recent update, cloth and surgical masks offer the least degree of protection from the coronavirus, with respirators providing the most protection, for example, on public transportation or in enclosed crowded settings.

Respirators, which are often incorrectly referred to as "masks" due to their appearance, are personal protective equipment constructed to a certain standard and meant to prevent inhalation of harmful airborne contaminants.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) manages respirator standards in the U.S., which encompass three factors: filter efficiency, breathing resistance, and fit.

At a high flow rate, a filter that satisfies the N95 standard (similar to Europe's FFP2) must collect at least 95% of particles in the most penetrating size range.

A filtering facepiece respirator (FFR) is one that is made solely of filtering material rather than having layers for waterproofing, for example. An FFR can be worn numerous times before being discarded.

According to research, FFRs lose their ability to fit well after 20 uses due to strap stretching or failure of the nose clip or edge components.

However, while the N95 and KN95 masks provide the most protection, the CDC emphasizes the importance of wearing a mask that fits properly and does not have any gaps around the nose or sides, which is what the CDC emphasizes most.

There should be no gaps between your face and the respirator, especially around the nose and chin. Establish the nose clip and wrap both straps around your head, adjusting as necessary, to form a tight seal.

The respirator is likely to fit nicely if the facepiece collapses slightly as you inhale. Make it a practice to inspect your own seals before each wear.

Because of the Omicron variant's rapid growth in COVID transmission, more attention has been paid to the masks that individuals are wearing.

"Cloth masks are little more than facial decorations," CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and professor at George Washington University, said. "There's no place for them in light of Omicron."

The CDC's new recommendation states that "any mask is better than no mask" as long as it is correctly fitted with multiple layers of protection. The guidelines also suggest that people can wear a disposable mask underneath and a cotton mask on top of their masks.

The CDC also revised its guidance to address concerns about N95 mask supply constraints.

The Biden administration said last week that N95 masks will be provided for free to help combat the increase of COVID-19 cases in the U.S.