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Update: What are the new Mask Guidelines from the CDC? Double up or upgrade?

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The CDC updated its guidance for mask wearing to help boost fit and increase protection.  They offered two methods of doing so. The first is to wear a surgical mask (or procedure mask) as a first layer, and wear a cloth mask on top. The other is to improve the fit of a single surgical mask by tying each ear loop in a knot nearest the mask and tucking in the sides of the mask to reduce air leak.  Both of these methods reduced exposure to potentially infectious aerosols by 95 percent.

The figure describes that wearing a mask that fits tightly to your face can help limit spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

We know that universal masking works.  With more infectious variants circulating, improving mask fit will help them work better. The point is not to keep adding layers (two masks doesn’t mean double protection), but to decrease gaps which allow air to escape filtration. Pinch the metal bridge to improve fit around the nose. Make sure you can’t feel any open spots of air leakage and that when you inhale you feel some suction up against your face.

Not every mask fits every face, so if you find these methods aren’t working for yours, experiment with other options. These might include a neck gaiter (or panty hose) as a second layer (which may also reduce the pull of the first mask’s ear loops). Try upgrading your cloth mask to one with a more 3 dimensional construction, more face contour, and fewer gaps.  For more on choosing a better cloth mask, try NPR’s Guide on choosing a more protective cloth mask.

Sky Pittson, MD,  February 17, 2021