When the CDC recommended that Americans wear face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it was hard enough to get some people to wear one mask. And now the CDC is suggesting that two is even better.
What’s behind the new recommendation that “double masking” might be better than just wearing a single? It’s party about fit, and partly about layers.
Mask fit has always been a bit of an issue – it’s part of why experts were slow to recommend masking at the very beginning of the pandemic. The thinking was that masks other than N95s didn’t fit very well (and even those require a bit of an effort to fit well), which would let germs in, and also make people feel that they were being protected and engage in riskier behaviors than they would without a mask.
Fast forward to more learning about the virus and about masks, and in July 2020, the CDC recommended that most Americans wear masks in an effort to prevent rampant transmission of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Results from the newest research by the CDC suggest that a combination of a cloth mask over a surgical mask blocked particles dramatically better than either alone.
Here’s what they found when they simulated the particles expelled by a cough in a lab and tested how well different masks blocked them:
• An unknotted surgical mask blocked 42 percent of the particles.
• A cloth mask blocked 44 percent of those particles.
• Together, the cloth mask over the surgical one blocked 92.5 percent of the particles.
Also important: The research found that making a surgical mask fit more snugly reduced particles as well. To do that, you can try knotting the elastic on the sides of the mask (check out this video), and then tucking in the extra fabric on the sides. Thing is, that doesn’t work for all face shapes and sizes.
In general, more layers on a mask work better than fewer. But if all those layers make it really hard to take in air, ironically, that could backfire, Linsey Marr of Virginia Tech, an aerosol transmission expert, explained to The New York Times. If your masks are making it hard to breathe, she said, “it’s more likely air will find gaps to leak through.”
While two masks were found to be much more effective in this research, experts also point out that wearing a mask of any thickness in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19 is better than wearing none.
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