What the new double-mask guidance from the CDC really means


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – For the first time, the CDC’s masking guideline says face coverings protect not only those around you but the wearer, too.

That protection can greatly increase when a person wears two masks, according to that new guidance.

“The most important form of double-masking is when you and the person you were interacting with are both wearing a mask. I say first and foremost, that’s the thing everyone needs to pay close attention to,” said Dr. Emily Sickbert-Bennett, director of infection prevention at UNC Health.

Sickbert-Bennett has studied the effectiveness of face coverings at over the course of the pandemic.

“Aerosol scientists, epidemiologists, and the data are all very clear that when we wear masks, we prevent transmission,” she said.

A new CDC study found a surgical mask alone can offer about 42-percent protection. A cloth mask can offer about 44-percent protection.

Wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask can block 92-percent of viral particles.

“A medical procedure mask underneath is a good filter material and cloth on top helps close any of the gaps,” said Sickbert-Bennett.

A very limited study

The guidance is strictly for a cloth over a surgical mask.

Sickbert-Bennett recommended sticking to the recommendations.

“We have in the aerosol lab tested what happens if you put two medical procedure masks on top of each other and found that it really doesn’t provide any added benefits,” said Sickbert-Bennett.

The CDC reported this was a very limited study. It only looked at the protection when a cloth mask is placed over a surgical mask and not the other way around.

It also didn’t look at protection with wearing more than one surgical masks or more than one cloth. They also suggest people not combine a KN95, the cheaper and more accessible version of the N95, with any other masks.

Improving what you already have

Because fit is one of the most important attributes, the CDC encourages the use of a mask fitter or a brace. These are accessories that are placed over the mask to make for a snug fit. The CDC said they could help to reduce air leakage from around the edges of the mask.

The CDC said regardless of mask materials, fitters could improve filtration by up to 90-percent.

If you don’t have access to one of these, you may be able to make use of old hoisery.

The CDC said a fitter or brace alternative would involve placing a piece of sheer nylon hosiery material around the neck and pulling it up over a mask to create a tighter fit.

The CDC encouraged the “knot and tuck” method to ensure your surgical mask is not leaking or taking in as little viral particles as possible. Watch the video above for a tutorial on how to do this.

  • Knot the ear loops of a 3-ply face mask where they join the edge of the mask
  • Fold and tuck the unneeded material under the edges

The CDC said if two people in close proximity use this method, both can experience more than 95-percent protection.

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