Double masking, better mask fit can reduce Covid exposure, CDC study finds

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This illustration shows a woman wearing two facemasks, a cloth mask over a surgical mask, in Arlington, Virginia, on February 8, 2021.

Olivier Douliery | AFP | Getty Images

Wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask can help significantly reduce the risk of exposure to Covid-19, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC researchers said they explored the effectiveness of different masking approaches through laboratory experiments in which they placed two artificial heads 6 feet from one another and measured how many coronavirus-sized particles exhaled by one were inhaled by the other.

The researchers found that wearing just one mask, either surgical or cloth, blocked a little over 40% of the particles. But a cloth mask on top of a surgical mask blocked about 80% of particles. When both of the heads in the experiment wore two masks, more than 95% of the particles were blocked, the researchers found.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the study’s findings “underscore the importance of wearing a mask correctly and making it fits closely and snugly over your nose and mouth.”

Walensky said the agency is not changing its original recommendation that everyone two years and older wear a mask when around people who don’t live in their household. However, the agency will update its guidance on its website “to provide new options on how to improve mask fit,” Walensky said.

Those options include wearing a mask with a moldable nose wire or wearing a cloth mask over a disposable surgical mask, she said. She added that there are new devices called mask fitters that can help cinch a cloth or medical mask and create a tighter fit.

“The bottom line is this: masks work and they work best when they have a good fit and are worn correctly,” she said

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