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By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) late on Friday revised its guidance for Americans on wearing masks, recommending wearing “the most protective mask you can,” although the agency stopped short of calling for nationwide N95 usage.

The CDC clarified in its revised website “that people can choose respirators such as N95s and KN95s, including removing concerns related to supply shortages for N95s.” It added that Americans should “wear the most protective mask you can that fits well and that you will wear consistently.”

The CDC added “masking is a critical public health tool to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and it is important to remember that any mask is better than no mask.”

The revised recommendations “reflect the science on masking, including what we have learned in the past two years,” the CDC added.

The health agency added that “while all masks and respirators provide some level of protection, properly fitted respirators provide the highest level of protection.”

COVID-19 cases have surged and more Americans have been opting for higher-grade protection.

N95 masks that are worn correctly will filter out at least 95% of particulate matter in the air, preventing anything larger than 0.3 micron from passing through.

The United States reported 1.35 million new coronavirus infections on Monday, shattering the global record for daily cases in any one country. Omicron is now estimated to account for 98.3% of total new cases circulating in the country, the CDC said.

Masks remain polarizing in the United States. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, this week again urged citizens to wear masks and noted that about one-third of Americans report they do not wear a mask at all. Many Republican-leaning states have no mask requirements while some liberal Democratic-controlled states like California have reimposed indoor mask mandates.

Senator Bernie Sanders reintroduced a bill dubbed the Masks for All Act on Wednesday which would send each person in the United States a pack of three N95 masks.

In late July, the CDC reversed course and said fully vaccinated Americans should wear masks in indoor public places in regions where the coronavirus is spreading rapidly. The CDC says currently 99.5% of U.S. counties have high community spread and are covered by the mask recommendation.

In May, the CDC had announced that fully vaccinated people could shed their face coverings as COVID-19 was on the decline.

(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington; Additional reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by David Gregorio and Matthew Lewis)