If your face mask doesn’t fit well, you could be seriously increasing your chance of contracting COVID-19 without even knowing it. A new study found that wearing a snug surgical mask—or layering a cloth mask over a surgical mask—could reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission by up to 96.5 percent, the CDC said recently. “It is more important than ever to wear a well-fitting mask,” CDC head Rochelle Walensky tweeted last week. “The better a mask fits, the more protection you have for yourself and those around you. Wear a mask that fits closely over your nose and mouth for it to be more effective.” Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had Coronavirus.
The CDC’s Steps For Improving Your Mask’s Fit
Wearing one mask is better than no mask at all, but air leaking around the edges of a mask can make it less protective. The CDC suggested some strategies for improving fit:
- Wear a surgical mask under a cloth mask
- Wear a single surgical-type disposable mask, and knotting it where the ear loops join the mask, then tucking and flattening the extra mask material close to the face (knotting-and-tucking).
- Wear a mask fitter (or brace)
- Wear a nylon sleeve under a single mask
Doing this can drastically reduce the risk of being exposed to respiratory particles, the CDC said, pointing to the results of their recent study in which researchers simulated aerosols ejected during a cough and estimated how well masks blocked them. An unknotted surgical mask intercepted 42% of the particles, while a single cloth mask blocked 44.3%. But a cloth mask over a surgical mask blocked 92.5%.
When both the source of the aerosols and the receiver wore the mask combo or a knotted-and-tucked surgical mask, particles were blocked by 96.4 percent and 95.9 percent.
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Don’t loosen mask policies now, expert says
Although vaccinations are increasing and COVID cases declining nationwide, health officials are nervously monitoring several variants of the coronavirus. A UK variant has proven to be more contagious, and cases are doubling in the U.S. every 10 days. A South African variant may have the potential to make vaccines less effective.
“With cases, hospitalizations and deaths still very high, now is not the time to roll back mask requirements,” said Walensky during a press conference detailing the CDC study. “The bottom line is this: Masks work, and they work when they have a good fit and are worn correctly.”
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How to survive this pandemic
As for yourself, do everything you can to prevent getting—and spreading—COVID-19 in the first place: Wear a face mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.