Face masks have been a part of our lives for nearly two years now, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. And, with the highly transmissible omicron variant circulating widely, masks are just as important as ever, NBC investigative and consumer correspondent Vicky Nguyen told TODAY viewers.
But it's crucial to get masking right, meaning you should wear effective masks that fit your face well. Here's what you need to know about finding and wearing face masks to protect yourself in 2022.
When do you need to wear a mask?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommend that everyone who is 2 years old and up wear a face mask in public indoor settings to protect themselves — and others — from the spread of COVID-19.
That's especially true if you're in an area of the country with high or substantial COVID-19 transmission right now. (More than 91% of counties in the U.S. are currently experiencing high transmission, according to CDC data.)
You might also want to consider wearing a mask in an outdoor setting if it’s crowded or you'll be in close contact with people who aren’t fully vaccinated.
And if you're immunocompromised, you should continue to take as many precautions as you can (including masking) even if you're fully vaccinated, the CDC advises.
What type of mask should you wear?
When selecting a face mask, you should opt for one that has at least two layers of fabric, the CDC recommends.
The fit is also crucial: Your mask should completely cover both your nose and mouth and it should fit your face snugly so that there aren't any gaps around your face. Choosing a mask that has an adjustable nose wire can help with that, the CDC says.
Considering just how contagious the omicron variant appears to be, some experts are advising the public to upgrade their cloth masks to surgical masks, KN95s or N95s, Nguyen said. While N95 and KN95 masks are the most effective option, they tend to be more expensive and aren't always easy to find — especially in kids' sizes.
So if you don't have access to KN95s or N95s, you can make your cloth and surgical masks more effective by double-masking (wearing the cloth mask over the surgical mask). Or, if your cloth mask has a pocket inside, you can put a filter in the pocket to add an extra layer of protection.
And to get a better fit on your cloth or surgical mask, you could wear a mask brace on top.
Where can you find masks you can trust?
The industry is fighting back against fake masks. One major manufacturer, 3M, launched a campaign earlier in the pandemic to help reduce counterfeit masks and price-gouging.
How can you tell if your mask is working?
To make sure your mask is actually providing protection, try performing the "flame test." To do so, you'll light a match or birthday candle and try to blow it out while wearing your mask. The harder it is to blow out the flame, the more protective your mask is.