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CDC finally updates guidance on masks, weeks after CNN doctor called cloth masks 'little more than facial decorations'

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its face mask guidance on Friday, explaining that cloth masks do not protect against COVID-19 as well as other types of face masks.

What is the background?

The CDC updated its guidance several weeks after Dr. Leana Wen, a top CNN medical analyst, described cloth masks as "little more than facial decorations."

"Cloth masks are little more than facial decorations and should not be considered an acceptable form of face covering. The US should require (& distribute) medical-grade surgical masks to be worn in crowded indoor spaces," she tweeted.

What are the details?

The new guidance says that surgical masks and respirators, such as N95s, protect against COVID-19 transmission much better than commonly worn cloth masks.

The new guidance reads, in part:

Masks and respirators (i.e., specialized filtering masks such as “N95s”) can provide different levels of protection depending on the type of mask and how they are used. Loosely woven cloth products provide the least protection, layered finely woven products offer more protection, well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN95s offer even more protection, and well-fitting NIOSH-approved respirators (including N95s) offer the highest level of protection.

According to the New York Times, the updated guidance marks the first time the CDC "has explicitly addressed the differences" between cloth masks and those masks that medical experts say provide better protection against COVID, such as surgical masks or N95 respirators. The agency, however, stopped short of recommending all Americans to wear surgical face masks or N95 respirators.

Still, the CDC maintained the best face covering for Americans is the one that best fits.

"Our main message continues to be that any mask is better than no mask," Kristen Nordlund, a CDC spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Anything else?

The updated guidance comes as the Biden administration has been "divided over how strongly to encourage Americans to wear high-filtration masks such as N95 respirators," NBC News reported.

According to the NBC report, some officials in the White House have been pushing for the federal government to distribute N95 face masks to every household in America. Other officials, however, have pushed back against the idea.

At any rate, President Joe Biden said Thursday that he is planning to make "high-quality masks" available to every American for free. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that more details would be forthcoming about the plan next week.

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