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What's the best mask to wear against the omicron variant?

As the omicron variant continues to spread throughout the state, many have started to mask back up. But, which mask provides the best protection against the variant?

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — You can see it in recent COVID-19 numbers, the omicron variant is spreading rapidly throughout Arkansas. 

It's led many to mask back up, but that makes many question which face covering will best protect you against this new mutation. It's also caused many to wonder how they'll buy a mask while avoiding those high prices?

It was something that was discussed a lot at the beginning of the pandemic and it's a topic that is taking center stage once again.

"You're just more likely to encounter someone infectious with COVID right now than any other time previously during the pandemic," said Dr. Joel Tumlison, Outbreak Response Physician with the Arkansas Department of Health.

So during this current surge, what mask will protect you the best while you're out and about?

We asked Dr. Tumlison.

"If I could say what the best mask right now is, it's the one that you have on your face covering your mouth and nose and can leave on," he said.

Wearing any mask is better than not wearing one at all, that's the most important point that Tumlison wants to get across. 

But, if you base it on the science, N95 and KN95 masks are the way to go.

"They just block more smaller size particles more effectively, more efficiently from coming through the material. The way they're made is very good for that," he said.

This is something that we've heard for the past two years, with the next most effective being being the surgical masks, and then the cloth ones. 

If you're someone that likes the comfort and style of a cloth mask, Tumlison said stick with a multi-layer one.

"It is important that a cloth mask, or a homemade mask, have more than one layer of material because that just blocks more things," Tumlison said.

With all the talk about masks, you've probably noticed how the price tag has gone up, especially for those N95 and KN95 masks. 

This price increase doesn't surprise UCA Assistant Economics Professor, Jeremy Horpedahl. 

"As these things change. It's not all surprising, the price will change," he said.

Horpedahl believes this is happening for two reasons. The first being that the changes the CDC has made to recommendations has caused more people to want higher quality masks. The second factor is simple, it's the current spread of omicron.

"The price of of the masks, whatever kind they might be, go up and down with with the severity of the pandemic at the moment," he said.

So, how do you get the best bang for your buck?

Horpedahl said if you see a good price, buy it now because it probably won't go on sale any time soon. 

Second, shop around and use price trackers on the internet. 

Lastly, know what you're willing to pay.

"Just think about 'is it worth it to me' and if it is, buy it and it'll protect you and then when you don't need it, then you don't have to worry about it," he said.

No matter your preference, Tumlison said the moral of the story is a mask you wear properly is better than a mask you don't wear right.

"Any mask that is over your mouth and nose is better than one that's not," he said.

Prices for masks are more likely to go up before they come down, according to Horpedahl.

So, if you find a good price, stock up because it's kind of like holiday decorations in January... you'll probably get the best price when nobody wants them.


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