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More Americans think that N95 and KN95 masks are effective against Covid-19 than believe the same of surgical or cloth masks, but they wear them less, a new Harris poll suggests, highlighting the importance of the White House’s rollout of free N95 masks to make them more accessible.

Key Facts

The poll, conducted January 21-23 among 2,120 U.S. adults, found 86% of respondents believe N95 and KN95 masks are protective against the spread of Covid-19.

That’s higher than the 75% who believe surgical masks are effective and 55% who say cloth masks are protective (68% if the mask includes a filter).

However, only 29% said they actually wear a N95 or KN95 mask, versus 33% who wear a surgical mask and 36% who use a cloth mask.

Some 62% of respondents said they’d wear the higher-quality masks “if price and availability were not an issue.”

Big Number

400 million. That’s how many free N95 masks the Biden administration will distribute through pharmacies and community health centers. Masks started becoming available last week shortly after the program was announced, and White House Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said Wednesday the initiative will “hit full strength” over the next few weeks, with “tens of thousands” of sites distributing masks across the country.

Key Background

N95, KN95 and KF94 masks—high-quality respirators regulated by the U.S., China and South Korea, respectively—have become increasingly important amid the rapid spread of the omicron coronavirus variant. It is highly transmissible, and experts say cloth masks and surgical masks are less effective against it. (Surgical masks are made of a better quality material than cloth masks, but aren’t as well-fitting as N95s.) An increasing number of businesses, governments and schools have updated their mask rules to require better-quality masks as a result, with places like Utah’s Salt Lake County requiring people to wear respirator masks indoors and Los Angeles mandating employers provide them for workers and barring children from wearing cloth masks in school.


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Americans should “wear the most protective mask you can, that fits well and that you will wear consistently,” but the agency has resisted calls to recommend people wear N95 or KN95 masks—even as its website notes they’re more protective when worn properly.

Further Reading

The Insight: The latest trends from The Harris Poll. (Harris Poll)

400 Million Free N95 Masks: Biden Will Announce Rollout As Battle Against Omicron Steps Up (Forbes)

More Than 40% Of U.S. Adults Have Ordered Biden’s Free Covid Tests, Poll Finds (Forbes)

N95, KN95 Or Cloth Masks? What To Wear To Best Protect Against Omicron (Forbes)

Full coverage and live updates on the Coronavirus

Source: Forbes

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