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The CDC Just Changed This Big Mask Advice for All

There are some new suggestions on how to better protect yourself and others. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek
Rochelle Walensky

Early on in the pandemic, health experts identified masks as one of the most powerful tools in the battle against COVID-19. Over the last year, more research has been conducted on their effectiveness and also focusing on the types of masks that are more efficient in preventing the spread of the virus. During Wednesday's White House COVID-19 Response Team Briefing, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed some new advice, also just published on the CDC website, on how to wear your mask in order to protect yourself and others from infection. Read on to find out what it is—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus

CDC Chief Walensky Gave New Advice About How Your Mask Should Fit

"One of the simple things we can all do, one thing that will make the biggest difference is to wear a mask. I know some of you are both tired of hearing about masks, as well as tired of wearing them. Masks can be cumbersome. They can be inconvenient. And I also know that many of you still have questions about masks," Dr. Walensky said. "You may be unsure if they work, what kind is best. And whether two masks are better than one, we've learned a lot about masks over the past year." 

The science is clear, "everyone needs to be wearing a mask when they are in public or when they are in their own home but with people who do not live in their household," Dr. Walensky continued. "This is especially true with our ongoing concern about new variants spreading in the United States."

Why? "Masks offer two kinds of protection: When I wear a mask, it protects you and it protects me," she stated. However, if only one person is wearing a mask, they don't always work. "To get the most protection possible, we all have to wear them."

She then pointed out that research has found that infection and deaths decrease when there are mask mandates in place. "So with cases, hospitalizations, and deaths still very high now is not the time to roll back mask requirements." 

Unfortunately, not everyone is wearing a mask correctly. "I have also seen very many well-meaning people wearing masks that do not fit well or fit incorrectly. In fact, recent survey data found that among adults who reported wearing masks in the past week half said they wore their mask incorrectly in public," she continued, explaining that new data released by the CDC on Wednesday underscores "the importance of wearing a mask correctly and making sure it fits closely and snugly over your nose and mouth," she said. 

"In this new study, researchers used experiments in the laboratory, not the real world, to assess how different strategies to improve the fit of masks impacts the masks ability to block aerosolized particles emitted during a simulated cough, as well as to reduce exposure to aerosol particles admitted during simulated breathing," she explained. "The size of the aerosol particles in the experiment were designed to mimic the respiratory droplet particles most important for person to person transmission of SARS-COV2 the virus that causes COVID-19."

The experiments compared the performance of no mask, a single cloth face mask, and a single medical procedure mask with two approaches to improve the mask fit of the surgical mask: wearing a cloth mask over the procedure mask and knotting and tucking the ear loops of the medical procedure masks. 

"In the study wearing any type of mask performs significantly better than not wearing a mask," she revealed. However, "a well-fitting mask provided the greatest performance, both at blocking emitted aerosols and exposure of aerosols to the receiver. In the breathing experiment, having both the source and the receiver wear masks modified to fit better, reduced the receiver's exposure by more than 95% compared to no mask at all."

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Dr. Walensky Gave Specific Advice About What Your Mask Should Now Have

While the new scientific data released today does not change the specific recommendations about who should wear a mask (anyone two years of age or over) or when they should wear one, they do provide new information on why wearing a well fitting mask is so important to protect you and others, she explained. 

"We continue to recommend that masks should have two or more layers, completely cover your nose and mouth and fit snugly against your nose and the side of your face," she stated. 

"Based on this new information, the CDC is updating the mask information for the public on the CDC website to provide new options on how to improve mask fit. This includes wearing a mask with a moldable nose wire, knotting the ear loops on your mask or wearing a cloth mask over a procedure or disposable mask," she said. 

"There are also new options available to consumers called mask fitters, small reusable devices that cinch a cloth or a medical mask, and that can create a tighter fit against the face and thus improve mask performance."

To recap, per the CDC:

"In lab tests with dummies, exposure to potentially infectious aerosols decreased 95% when they both wore tightly fitted masks, like:

  • A cloth mask over a procedure mask
  • Medical procedure mask with knotted ear loops and tucked in sides

Other options to improve fit include:

  • Try a mask fitter
  • Try nylon covering over mask"

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How to Stay Healthy During This Pandemic

"The bottom line is this: masks work and they work best when they have a good fit and are worn correctly," she concluded. So follow the public health fundamentals and help end this surge, no matter where you live—wear a face mask, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, get vaccinated when it becomes available to you, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.