As Covid cases soar to unprecedented highs due to the highly-contagious Omicron variant, the CDC is considering updating its masking guidance to recommend that Americans wear N95 or KN95 masks to combat the spread. The respirator masks fit tightly on the face to filter out fine particles, offering greater protection than more loosely-fitted surgical masks or cloth masks, as studies suggest.

Currently, just 16% of Americans say they typically wear N95, KN95, or another type of high-quality respirator mask, as shown in a CivicScience survey conducted this week that analyzed mask types worn by the U.S. Gen Pop ages 13 and older. 

Cloth masks rank as the most prevalent type of mask – a total of 38% of respondents say they typically wear a standard cloth mask, a cloth mask with a filter, a neck gaiter/balaclava, or a bandana. A smaller percentage of people (28%) wear disposable surgical masks or cone-style masks.

The survey also found that 17% of respondents rarely or never wear a mask or face covering. Non-mask-wearers have doubled since March of 2021, as the charts below show. On the other hand, N95 and KN95 mask usage has almost tripled since the time of the March survey, while cloth mask usage has declined.

One drawback of N95 and KN95 masks is that they have historically been difficult to find, previously reserved for healthcare workers and those on the frontlines. Another drawback is that it’s easy to accidentally purchase fake versions online; it’s estimated that 60% of KN95’s are counterfeit and have not been approved by the NIOSH. 

Survey results show 42% of adult respondents have purchased or attempted to buy N95 or KN95 masks in the past. Close to 20% of respondents have had difficulty finding the masks to purchase, which is likely one reason why a greater portion of people rely heavily on cloth and surgical masks.

Among those who have never purchased N95 or KN95 masks, 15% of respondents plan to buy them in the future, while more than one-third have no intention of purchasing them.

When it comes to where people purchase disposable masks (including respirator, surgical, and many cone-shape masks), people are evenly divided between purchasing them online and in stores. However, Amazon accounts for a strong majority of online mask purchases – 26% of adults buy disposable masks online, with nearly 20% typically buying them through Amazon.

Looking specifically at N95/KN95 wearers, it’s likely that 46% exclusively purchase the masks online, and 30% purchase them from Amazon alone.

Despite whether or not more Americans will take up recommendations to wear respirator masks, concern for COVID-19 is on the rise as comfort being in public places nosedives. Data does show more U.S. adults are choosing to wear masks in public even when not required in their area. Those who wear masks in public “all of the time” climbed six percentage points since October of 2021.

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