The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said universal mask-wearing is slowing the spread of COVID-19, but the rate of effectiveness equates to mask thickness and how closely fitted they are to the user’s face.
The CDC announced Wednesday findings from research on the various ways of improving the fit of medical procedure and cloth masks, to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19. CDC said that particles of the SARS-CoV-2 virus could potentially leak around mask edges, where the mask is flush against the face. It points to children and men with beards as being especially susceptible to ill-fitting masks.
The agency said that improved fit could be realized by double masking or knotting and tucking masks. Double masking entails wearing a cloth mask over a medical procedure mask. CDC explained that knotting and tucking entail “knotting the ear loops of the medical procedure mask to where they attach at the masks’ edges and then tucking in and flattening the extra material close to the face.”
Recent studies of double masking or knotting and tucking indicated that COVID-19 exposure was reduced by around 95 percent. Other studies also found that simply combing both a medical procedure mask and a cloth mask could reduce the person’s exposure by 90 percent.
The CDC’s experiments found that “the unknotted medical procedure mask alone blocked 42 percent of the particles from a simulated cough, and the cloth mask alone blocked 44.3 percent. The combination of the cloth mask covering the medical procedure mask (double mask) blocked 92.5 percent of the cough particles.”
Another option is to use mask fitters, a frame contoured to the face, to improve the fit of both cloth and medical procedure masks. CDC’s research paper stated that elastic or solid fitters worn over the masks and secured with head ties or ear loops can potentially increase the protection by 90 percent.
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Another option is to wear a sleeve of sheer nylon hosiery material around the neck and pull it up over a cloth or medical procedure mask.
The paper did note that the experiments were conducted in a lab, using one type of surgical and cloth masks. It remains unclear how the recommendations would perform outside the controlled environment.
According to the CDC, 14 states and the District of Columbia have universal masking mandates as of Feb. 1. An executive order from President Joe Biden also went into effect this month to require mask-wearing on federal property, as well as on public transit, including school buses. Biden has also challenged all Americans to wear a mask until May 1.