CNN medical analyst Leana Wen said Monday on the network that cloth face masks are not effective against the Omicron variant, urging listeners to wear surgical masks instead.
Speaking about the upcoming New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square, Wen said that those attending the event should get vaccine booster shots and make sure they wear a mask.
“Make sure that you’re vaccinated and boosted,” she said on CNN. “Make sure that you’re wearing a mask even though it’s outdoors. There are lots of people packed around you, wearing a three-ply surgical mask.”
“Don’t wear a cloth mask,” Wen continued. “Cloth masks are little more than facial decorations. There’s no place for them in light of Omicron.”
Wen said the New Year’s Eve celebration should not be canceled since it takes place outdoors and everyone there is required to be vaccinated.
“We should be keeping the events that are safe and also the events that have fun for people, too,” she said. “We can’t be canceling everything especially if we’re going to be living with COVID for the foreseeable future.”
Later on Twitter, Wen clarified her comments, saying she meant people should wear the most effective type of face mask.
“My point isn’t that we don’t need masks, but rather that we should require masks that are most effective to prevent disease transmission. Everyone, including children, should be wearing at least a 3-ply surgical mask when indoors & around others of unknown vaccination status,” Wen wrote in a tweet.
Wen’s advice comes amid reports that the new Omicron variant is rapidly spreading in New York and other areas of the country. Early data has pointed to the Omicron variant being less lethal but more contagious than the Delta variant.
COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed in both in New York State and in New York City over the last several weeks. The new variant has sparked concerns about a new wave of shutdowns in the city, which is still operating with some of the strictest pandemic restrictions in the country. At least a dozen restaurants across the city have already shuttered voluntarily due to concerns about rising COVID cases.
Last week, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said he is considering whether to go forward with the Times Square ball drop.
“Everyone’s been told for weeks and weeks, don’t even show up in Times Square unless you’re vaccinated,” de Blasio said on CNN. “Now we’re going to reassess constantly with the new information. We’re going to follow the data and the science.”
Wen briefly led Planned Parenthood for eight months in 2018 and 2019 before she was ousted over philosophical differences. She had tried to steer the nation’s largest abortion provider away from politics and placing too much emphasis on abortion, but some on Planned Parenthood’s board of directors disagreed with that approach.