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To fight COVID-19, two masks are better than one, suggests U.S. CDC 

Posted: Wednesday, February 17, 2021. 3:40 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: While not explicitly recommending it, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), based on its research, suggests that two masks are better than one in the slowing spread of COVID-19.

On February 10, the CDC reported the results of a lab experiment that spaced two artificial heads six feet from each other and checked to see how many coronavirus-sized particles exhaled by one were inhaled by the other. 

When wearing one mask, either surgical or cloth, only 60 percent of the exhaled particles were inhaled by the other head; that number dropped to 20 percent when a cloth mask was worn on top of a surgical mask, and less than five percent when both heads were double-masked, according to the CDC’s Dr. John Brooks. 

While Dr. Brooks concluded, “It works,” of double-masking based on these results and earlier research, he acknowledged that the first task is to get as many persons actually wearing one mask correctly before asking that they wear two. The CDC said it was acting on reports of persons wearing two masks and moved to evaluate whether in fact, it was beneficial. 

The study had many limitations: The researchers used one brand of a surgical mask and one kind of cloth mask, and it’s not clear if results would be the same with every product. But it echoes some earlier research that suggests two masks are better than one. 

The CDC’s official guideline says people can wear a cloth mask on top of a disposable surgical mask “for better fit and extra protection.” If done correctly, the combination can tighten the gaps around the mask’s edges that can let virus particles in. 

Some have already started doing so, according to experts, out of concern about new strains of coronavirus that have been found to spread more easily than the one that has driven the U.S. epidemic for the past year. 

The CDC’s guidance on wearing masks has evolved, from then-Surgeon General Jerome Adams among others actively discouraging it at the start of the crisis, to doing an about-turn when it became clear that infected people who did not exhibit symptoms could spread the virus. 


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