During an appearance on CNN Tuesday, White House medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said people using cloth masks should consider upgrading to surgical-grade masks as the highly transmissible omicron variant spreads.
"I recommend you get the highest quality mask that you can tolerate and that's available to you," Fauci said to CNN's Anderson Cooper.
Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most recently updated in October, noted that surgical-grade masks and N95 respirators should be reserved for medical personnel. However, Fauci said Tuesday that such masks are no longer in short supply.
"Right now, there doesn't seem to be any shortage of the masks that were some time ago were not available," Fauci said. "If you can tolerate an N95, do it. If you want to get a KN95, fine."
Fauci's comments come as Biden administration officials weigh taking more steps to encourage Americans to upgrade their COVID-19 masks. The Washington Post has reported the CDC is considering changing its guidance, and Politico reports that the White House is considering offering free N95 masks to anyone who would like one.
When asked Wednesday about making high-quality masks more accessible, White House COVID-19 response team coordinator Jeff Zients said the Biden Administration is "strongly considering options right now to make high-quality masks available to all Americans," though did not go into detail about those options.
Fauci added Tuesday that while cloth masks don't offer as much protection as surgical-grade masks, they still limit the spread of COVID-19.
"What the CDC has said — and it gets misinterpreted — they're saying wearing any mask is better than no mask at all," Fauci said. "But there is a degradation of capability of preventing you from getting infected and preventing you from transmitting it to someone else. So, we should be wearing the best possible mask that we can get. That's a fact."