Wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask substantially improves protection against coronavirus infection beyond wearing just a single cloth mask, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.
But the findings might be a hard sell for some. Even wearing one mask remains a divisive issue for many, often reflecting political divisions across the country despite urging from health officials.
The Biden administration has aggressively pushed mask-wearing since it took office in January, asking the public to wear masks for the next 100 days as well as requiring them on public transportation and federal lands.
However, in Republican-controlled states, mask-wearing has been less emphasized and sometimes eschewed. Earlier this week, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds lifted the state’s mask mandate, despite CDC evidence that mask mandates reduce hospitalization rates. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem posted a photo Tuesday showing a dinner party with more than 20 attendees in her home and only one person wearing a mask. Former President Donald Trump notoriously declined to wear masks, despite the White House becoming the site of a superspreader event.
With the emergence of more transmissible COVID-19 variants, some public health experts have recommended upgraded masks or double-masking to mitigate spread. Top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, who had previously said the CDC would release its study on double-masking before making an official recommendation, has still called double-masking commonsense.
“If it makes you feel better to do two masks … why not go ahead and do it?” he said during an event with Washington Post Live in early February.
The study the agency conducted assessed two ways of improving masks: fitting a cloth mask over a surgical mask, and tightening the fit of a medical mask by knotting it behind the ears and tucking in excess material closer to the face. Fitting a cloth mask over a surgical mask could reduce the wearer’s exposure to aerosols by more than 90%, researchers say. Knotting and tucking a surgical mask or placing a sleeve made of sheer nylon hosiery to tighten the mask also had similar effectiveness, researchers say.
The study found that an unknotted surgical mask blocked 42% of particles from a simulated cough, researchers say, while a cloth mask alone blocked 44.3% of particles. When combined with the cloth mask over the surgical mask, 92.5% of cough particles were blocked. Additionally, when the person coughing was also double-masked or had a tightened medical mask, the cumulative exposure by another person was reduced by 82.2%. When both the person who coughed and the person receiving those aerosols were double-masked or wearing fitted masks, exposure was further reduced, researchers say.
The study does have some limitations: It only used one kind of surgical and one kind of cloth mask, when many other types are commercially available, and cannot be generalized to all types of masks. It also didn’t look at cloth-over-cloth or surgical-over-surgical masks. Additionally, findings can’t be generalized to children or men with facial hair, who might require a different fit. And while double-masking or tightening masks can optimize fit and improve mask performance, “double masking might impede breathing or obstruct peripheral vision for some wearers,” researchers say, and a tighter fit may change the mask shape so the mouth or nose is no longer covered.
However, researchers say the study shows these are ways to improve overall mask efficacy and more research is needed on ways to improve masks.
“The data in this report underscore the finding that good fit can increase overall mask efficiency. Multiple simple ways to improve fit have been demonstrated to be effective. Continued innovative efforts to improve the fit of cloth and medical procedure masks to enhance their performance merit attention,” researchers say.
— to www.usnews.com