The CDC Says You Should Be Doing These 3 Things With Your Mask Right Now
The agency just updated its recommendations with some modifications you can easily make.
As new highly contagious COVID variants have begun spreading across the U.S., health officials have started advising us to put more thought into the face masks we're wearing. But that doesn't necessarily mean you need to ditch the PPE you already own to mask up more effectively. In fact, according to a recent update from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are a few new things you should be doing with your mask right now for optimal protection.
Based on experiments conducted in January of 2021, the CDC found that "the effectiveness of cloth and medical procedure masks can be improved by ensuring that they are well fitted to the contours of the face to prevent leakage of air around the masks' edges"—and they have some tricks as to how to do that. Read on to see the science-backed ways to make your mask safer, and for the PPE you should absolutely be avoiding, check out The CDC Warns Against Using These 6 Face Masks.
The idea of "double masking" has caught on recently as a way to safely protect yourself from airborne particles you might be inhaling through a poorly fitted mask. Even Anthony Fauci, MD, told Today at the end of January: "If one mask serves as a physical barrier, if you put two on—if you're looking for enhancing the physical barrier—it makes common sense that it certainly can't hurt and might help."
Now, the CDC has made it official. According to the agency's experiments, the researchers found that "the better fit achieved by combining … two mask types, specifically a cloth mask over a medical procedure mask, could reduce a wearer's exposure by [by more than] 90 percent." And for more on the masks that aren't cutting it, check out This One Type of Face Mask Is "Unacceptable," Warns the Mayo Clinic.
Knotting the ear loops and tucking in the fabric
Another simple tactic that previously received attention through a viral TikTok post involves tying knots in each of the ear loop strings where they attach to the edges of a medical procedure mask. Then, the CDC recommends tucking in and flattening the extra material so that it lies close to your face, improving the fit of the mask and creating a better seal.
When both mannequin heads simulating droplet transmission were fitted with masks using the technique, the CDC's experiment found that it reduced exposure by more than 95 percent. And for more on where a fitted mask is extra important, check out This Is Where You're Most Likely to Catch COVID, New Study Says.
Another solution offered by the CDC involves using a mask fitter, which is a rubber or cloth device that contours to the face to provide a better fit. Using one was found to increase the wearer's protection by at least 90 percent.
The agency also pointed out that other household items could be used as a fitter in lieu of buying a specific product. According to the CDC, another study found that "placing a sleeve made of sheer nylon hosiery material [e.g. panythose] around the neck and pulling it up over either a cloth or medical procedure mask also significantly improved the wearer's protection by fitting the mask more tightly to the wearer's face and reducing edge gaps." And for more regular COVID updates sent directly to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Using a certified, high-grade mask
In lieu of looping, double masking, or using a fitter, high-grade medical masks can safely take the place of your typical face covering. While speaking with David Ignatius, a columnist for The Washington Post, in a Feb. 2 interview for Washington Post Live, Fauci said, "The classic N95 mask is the best type of a mask to use. I mean, when I'm seeing patients under conditions of containment, I wear it."
But some experts point out that they are still in short supply and should be saved for medical professionals. Ashish Jha, MD, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told The Baltimore Sun: "N95s are hard to get. I don't think people should think that's what they need."
In fact, CDC director Rochelle Walensky, MD, has even previously pointed out that over-reliance on the mask could have unintended consequences. "I have spent a reasonable about of time in an N95 mask, [and] they are hard to tolerate all day, every day," Walensky explained during a virtual town hall hosted by CNN on Jan. 27. "When you really think about how well people will wear them, I worry if we suggest or demand they wear them, they won't wear them all the time. They're very hard to breathe when you wear them properly, [and] they're very hard to tolerate when you wear them for long periods of time." And for more on PPE in your rotation that might need an upgrade, check out If You Have This Mask, Get a New One Now, Experts Say.