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Masks that meet the N-95 filtration standard in a storeroom at a hospital in Sarasota, Fla., on March 10, 2020. Experts are calling for respirators, such as N-95s, to become the new masking standard to curb Omicron.Eve Edelheit/The New York Times

Experts are calling for respirators, such as N-95s, to become the new masking standard to curb the spread of the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus.

Virginia Tech engineering professor Linsey Marr, who studies viruses in the air, says respirators offer far more protection than a surgical mask – both to the wearer and others around them.

Marr says the main difference comes down to fit – respirators are designed to form a seal around the face, while medical masks often leave gaps that allow virus particles to seep through.

Marr says she was shocked when she boarded a bus in Lake Louise, Alberta this week and was asked to take off her N-95 respirator and put on a surgical mask.

She compares the request to substituting a seat belt with a piece of rope.

A number of Canadian social media users have reported running into similar policies at hospitals and other health-care settings.

Public Health Ontario updated its guidelines on Wednesday to allow health workers caring for patients who could have COVID-19 to use respirators in settings where surgical masks had previously been the standard.

The interim recommendations also say that N-95s are an acceptable alternative to surgical masks for people visiting patient rooms and long-term care homes.

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