On Wednesday, Feb. 10, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced new health guidelines to combat coronavirus, including a recommendation to wear two masks at a time when around others.
After testing various masks in lab settings, the CDC came away with new research that seemed to suggest that combining a cloth mask over a surgical mask could drastically reduce one’s potential exposure to COVID-19 or their potential spread of the virus to vulnerable peoples.
Researchers tested combinations of multi-layered cloth masks and common surgical/medical masks, simulating breathing and coughing between pairs and dummies. According to CBS News, “when only a disposable mask was worn, just 42% of cough droplets were blocked in the experiment.”
However, when a cloth mask was combined on top of a disposable mask, this double masking blocked 92.5% of particles expelled from the “cough.”
Wearing two masks also reduced an individual’s “cumulative exposure” to droplets spread by an unmasked individual by 83%. This percentage increased to 96.4% if both individuals were double-masked.
As a result, the CDC now states that Americans should wear a mask with a nose wire first and foremost, as “nose wires prevent air from leaking out of the top of the mask,” but for this greater protection, one would need to also either wear a mask with multiple layers or layer a cloth mask over this first mask.
Additionally, the CDC was quick to note that combining two disposable masks would be insufficient.
“Disposable masks are not designed to fit tightly, and wearing more than one will not improve fit,” the agency stated.
Furthermore, if one is wearing a disposable mask at any time, the CDC advises knotting the ear loops of this mask and then “tucking and flattening the extra material on the sides” in order to make it fit as firmly to one’s face as possible.
“I want to be clear that [this] new scientific data released today [does] not change the specific recommendations about who should wear a mask or when they should wear one,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky said at a White House COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday. “But they do provide new information on why wearing a well-fitting mask is so important.”
Health advocates have been pleading with the CDC to update their guidelines for months after other studios showed that double masking could curb the spread of coronavirus, but the agency was hesitant to make a change until completing their own research. Still, Dr. Anthony Fauci had already been spotted wearing two masks towards the end of 2020.
This new announcement arrives as fears about a potential uptick in COVID-19 cases are at a height, with the B.1.1.7 strain of the virus – first identified in the U.K. last fall – potentially spreading throughout the United States.
Dr. Fauci was quick to urge caution.
“We should not despair at that because there are things we can do to prevent that,” he said. “It is not outside of our power to do that. The two things that we can do are some of the things that Dr. Walensky just mentioned: searing of masks, avoiding congregate settings, keeping your distance, and washing your hands together when the vaccine becomes available to you, so please get vaccinated.”