Double masking is only the start. Here are latest CDC face-covering recommendations.

Korin Miller
·4 min read

The idea of double masking has been floating around for a few weeks. But now officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are weighing in.

The CDC just released results of a new study that found that double masking offers more protection for the wearer against COVID-19. But that’s not all: The CDC’s experiments also found that there are other ways to make your mask more efficient, and it largely revolves around fit.

The CDC conducted lab tests with dummies and found that exposure to potentially infectious aerosols decreased by about 95 percent when both dummies wore tightly fitted masks. Those face coverings included a cloth face mask over a “medical procedure mask,” like a surgical mask, and a surgical mask with knotted ear loops and tucked-in sides.

The CDC also found that the following helped improve mask efficiency:

  • Using a nylon covering over a mask. When it’s worn, the researchers found that this can offer more than 90 percent protection.

  • Using a mask fitter, a solid or elastic device that’s worn over the mask and secured with head ties or ear loops. When used properly over a surgical mask, researchers found that a fitter can offer more than 90 percent protection for the wearer.

That’s not all. The CDC released new guidance Wednesday on how to make masks more effective, offering some very specific tips. The CDC now recommends the following:

  • Make sure your mask fits snugly against your face, noting that gaps can let air that can contain infectious particles seep in and out.

  • Choose a mask with multiple layers.

  • Pick a mask with a nose wire.

  • Use a mask fitter or brace.

  • Check for gaps.

  • Opt for layers, either by double masking with a disposable mask under a cloth mask, noting that the second mask should push the edges of the interior mask against your face, or choosing a multilayer mask.

The CDC also recommends that people avoid combining two disposable masks, noting that disposable masks are “not designed to fit tightly, and wearing more than one will not improve fit.” The organization even recommended against the practice of layering a mask over a KN95, writing, “Only use one KN95 mask at a time.”

This illustration shows a woman wearing two facemasks, a cloth mask over a surgical mask, in Arlington, Virginia, on February 8, 2021. - As new, more transmissible variants of the coronavirus spread, experts say it's time to consider using a medical-grade respirator, or wearing a surgical and cloth mask together. Scientists have agreed for some time the main way the virus is spread is through the air, rather than surfaces, and there's growing evidence that small droplets from ordinary breathing and speech that can travel many meters (yards) are a common mode of transmission. (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
As new, more transmissible variants of the coronavirus spread, experts say it's time to consider using wearing a surgical and cloth mask together. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

While the new guidance isn’t a departure from previous mask recommendations, it is much more specific and focused on fit.

Experts applaud the new recommendations. Many of the tips have been floating around for a while, but “hearing it from the CDC will reinforce that not every mask is sufficient,” infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Life.

“All of those are enhancing the protective nature of masks to keep people from inhaling the virus,” pulmonologist Dr. Reynold Panettieri, vice chancellor for translational medicine and science at Rutgers University, tells Yahoo Life. “That is a good thing.”

Adalja stresses that masks need to be used the right way in order to do their job. “There is a certain way to use a mask appropriately, and having the CDC put out guidance so that people realize how to wear masks properly will likely give us all more protection,” he says.

N95 masks, which the CDC still says should be reserved for health care workers, are known for their ability to get a secure fit around the nose and mouth, but Adalja says it doesn’t make sense for the general public to use these. “They have to be professionally fit tested,” he says. “I would rather have someone wearing a surgical mask worn appropriately in the general public than an N95 that doesn’t fit properly.” However, he points out, KF94 masks, the Korean version of N95 masks, do not need to be fit tested.

Adalja is hopeful this guidance will also help to set new standards for buying masks. “This helps guide the process of what to expect in a mask,” he says. “It gives companies something to shoot for. If they meet standards, people will be drawn to it.”

Dr. Thomas Russo, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, tells Yahoo Life that the new guidance is “very helpful” for the general public but points out that it’s unlikely to resonate with people who don’t think masks are effective at preventing the spread of the virus. “There are people who do wear masks and those who don’t wear masks,” he says. “But this will enable people who are wearing masks to up their game if they want to reassess what they have.”

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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