Skip to content

This Reduces COVID Exposure by 90%, Says CDC

Do this now to double your protection against coronavirus.
A young woman is considering whether to remove the medical mask after the end of the quarantine due to the coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention on Wednesday updated its advice about wearing face masks to slow the spread of COVID-19, and the agency could have boiled it down to an ad slogan: Fit matters. The new advice resulted from a study the CDC conducted to see if mask effectiveness could be improved. The agency said it found that making simple changes, like wearing two masks or cinching a mask more snugly to the face, could protect mask wearers from about 90% of the infectious respiratory droplets that cause COVID-19. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.

Four new mask strategies detailed

The new advice could effectively double protection against COVID-19. Health officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious-disease expert, had previously estimated that wearing a single face mask could reduce the risk of contracting coronavirus by 50% to 80%. 

In the weeks since the presidential inauguration—where several attendees were seen wearing two face masks—there has been speculation that the CDC would recommend that Americans double up. The agency stopped short of that in the new advice. But it noted that in a lab experiment conducted with dummies, researchers found that a cloth mask worn over a disposable surgical mask reduced exposure to infectious droplets by nearly 90%.

Additionally, wearing 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, provided about the same level of virus blockage, the CDC said.

In the new guidance, the CDC also recommended using a mask fitter (or brace) or wearing a nylon sleeve over a single mask. All four strategies seem to have a similar aim: "fitting the mask more tightly to the wearer's face and reducing edge gaps."

At topline, the CDC's basic face mask advice is similar to what it's been for months: Wear one whenever you're in public; make sure it has multiple layers and fits securely. "When choosing a mask, look at how well it fits, how well it filters the air, and how many layers it has," the agency said on its website, recommending a mask that fits snugly over your face and has numerous layers to intercept respiratory droplets on the way in or out. "A mask with layers will stop more respiratory droplets getting inside your mask or escaping from your mask if you are sick."

The CDC also offered some caveats: Don't wear two disposable surgical-type masks at once—they're not designed to fit snugly enough to make enough of a difference in multiples—and don't combine any other mask with a KN95 mask.

RELATED: If You Feel This, You May Have Already Had COVID, Says Dr. Fauci

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.