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CDC Chief Says Wear This Mask Now

Should you be double-masking or upgrading? Here's what the experts say.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab
Woman wearing face mask because of air pollution or virus epidemic in the city.

As new variants of COVID-19 spread throughout the world, some experts say it's necessary for Americans to upgrade the face masks they're wearing, either wearing two masks or switching from cloth masks to surgical masks or N95s. Not so fast, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the new head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at a CNN town hall on coronavirus Wednesday night. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.

Wear a Multi-Layered Mask, Says the CDC Chief

Her advice was simpler. "Everybody should be wearing a mask," she said. "If you're wearing a cloth mask, it should be a multi-layered mask, so that you have several layers of potential protection."

In recent weeks, including at the presidential inauguration, politicians and health officials have been seen doubling up on masks, such as wearing a surgical mask or medical grade N95 mask underneath a cloth mask. Echoing Walensky, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, told CNN that's not yet an official recommendation; it's more important than Americans wear a face mask, period. "The CDC does not recommend that you must wear two masks, nor does the CDC recommend that you have to wear an N95 mask," said Fauci. "They just say the most important thing is get everybody to wear a mask."

RELATED: Dr. Fauci Says You Don't Have to Do This Anymore to Avoid COVID

N95s 'Hard to Tolerate'

Walensky said she's frequently asked about whether to upgrade to an N95 mask, and she fears that officially recommending them would lead to less mask-wearing overall. "I have spent a reasonable amount of time in an N95 mask, and they're hard to tolerate all day every day," she said. "When you really think about how well people will wear them, I worry that if we suggest or require that people wear N95s, they won't wear them all the time. They're very hard to breathe in when you wear them properly. They're very hard to tolerate when you wear them for long periods of time." 

RELATED: 7 Side Effects of Wearing a Face Mask

She added: "I do think that if everybody is wearing a mask, if you're six feet apart, and if anybody else who you might be with is also wearing a mask, that you have enough protective efficacy in the barriers of those two masks and the space between them that you probably don't need" an N95.

Walensky noted that ongoing studies are evaluating how protective cloth masks truly are, particularly against new coronavirus variants that are emerging.

After the town hall, Walensky tweeted, "Please #WearAMask to protect yourself and others from #COVID19. Masks work best when everyone wears one, but they are not a substitute for social distancing. Masks should still be worn in addition to staying at least 6 ft apart (esp. indoors around people you don't live with)." She included a link to the CDC's latest scientific brief on masks, which listed several studies showing that community masking has reduced or prevented the spread of COVID.

The CDC's guide to masks recommends that you choose a face mask that 

  • Has two or more layers of breathable, washable fabric
  • Completely covers your mouth and nose
  • Fits snugly against the side of your face, without any gaps

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.

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