Turns out, that super cute mask you got off Etsy or that pack of medical masked you grabbed at the grocery store might not be protecting you as much as you think.
On Wednesday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study that found double masking or adjusting your medical mask to fit closer to your face can significantly reduce your exposure to Covid-19? How significantly, you might ask? By about 95 percent. Whoa.
Last month scientists at the CDC wanted to test if better fitting masks to a person’s face could protect them more. So they did what scientists do and performed several experiments with masks, dummies, simulated coughs, and 15-minute exposure periods.
In one experiment, they tested the effects of double masking (wearing a cloth mask over your medical mask). When the (simulated) cougher was unmasked but the bystander (receiver) was double-masked, their exposure to aerosols was reduced by 83 percent. When both the cougher and the receiver were double-masked, the receiver’s exposure was reduced by 96.4 percent.
The scientists also tested plain medical masks. Because of all the potential air leaks, a surgical mask—you know, the ones that make you feel like you’re on Grey’s Anatomy—only protects you from about 42 percent of cough particles in the air. But adjusting the mask to your face can increase your protection.
In the experiment, scientists knotted the ear loops, so the mask fit tighter across the dummy’s face, and then also tucked in the side gaps along the cheeks. When the cougher was unmasked, the receiver’s exposure was reduced by 64.5 percent. And when both the cougher and receiver were masked like this, exposure was reduced by 95.9 percent.
Basically, if all you’ve got is a medical mask, adjust it so it fits close to your face (no exposed noses!). It’s not the best, but it’s much better than nothing. You’re pretty well protected if you’re double masked, even if no one else where you are is—but you should avoid those situations anyways.
For the folks who think this data gets them out of wearing a mask because people are protecting themselves, think again, said the CDC. When the cougher was double masked or had knotted their mask, and the receiver was an unmasked hooligan, the receiver’s exposure was reduced by 82.2 percent and 62.9 percent, respectively.
And if you don’t want to double up on masks, or you only have one, the CDC said if you have a filter or have a nylon covering (like a neck gaiter) to go over your mask, those are also effective options.
Read the study here.