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Two Masks Are Better Than One, CDC Says


Turns out wearing two masks really is better than one. New research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that double-masking can vastly improve protection from the coronavirus. The CDC is offering updated advice on face coverings as new, more transmissible variants of the coronavirus spread across the U.S. Here to tell us more is NPR health correspondent Maria Godoy.

Hey, Maria.

MARIA GODOY, BYLINE: Hello, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So it seems like we've been hearing for a while now from experts that double-masking is better. I know my dentist scolded me the other day for walking in wearing only one mask. What is new today from the CDC?

GODOY: Well, you know, what's new is that the CDC is weighing in with research that actually backs this up. And when we talk about double-masking, we mean specifically wearing a surgical mask closest to your face and then adding a cloth mask on top. And the goal is to improve the fit because the better a mask fits, the more it protects. The CDC's experiments found that double-masking like this can make a big difference. In fact, it could reduce your exposure to infectious particles by more than 95% if both the infected person and non-infected person are double-masked.

KELLY: Is the CDC now recommending that we all wear two masks all the time going forward?

GODOY: No, no, not exactly, but it is recommending ways to make masks fit more snugly over our noses and mouths because that's how they work better. For instance, if you're just wearing a single surgical mask, the CDC study found that you can use knots to make it more protective.

KELLY: Wait. Hang on. Knots - how does that work?

GODOY: So first, you take the ear loops of a surgical mask, and you tie them in a knot as close to the edge of the mask as possible. And then you tuck in the side pleats close to your face so you're really minimizing any gaps along the edges. And I know this can sound a bit confusing.

KELLY: Yeah, I'm not quite picturing it yet.

GODOY: If listeners are having trouble, you can find photos at NPR.org that show exactly how it all works.

KELLY: Oh, good. OK. I understand the CDC has another recommendation that people wear mask fitters. What is a mask fitter?

GODOY: A mask fitter is essentially a reusable plastic brace or frame that you can put on top of your mask to prevent air from leaking out around the edges, and you secure it with either a head tie or ear loops, depending on the model. But the CDC study also highlighted one of my favorite tricks, which involves pantyhose.

KELLY: Hang on - pantyhose. I guess I have plenty kicking around since I never change out of sweatpants anymore. Go on.

GODOY: Exactly (laughter). Yeah, you and me both. But basically, you can cut a ring of material about 10 inches long from top to bottom from the leg of a pair of pantyhose. And then you take that ring, and you put it on top of your mask. And I know it sounds silly, but studies show this can really boost mask performance. And you know, that's even more important as more contagious variants of the coronavirus spread.

KELLY: And real quick, there was some news today out of the White House briefing. What was it?

GODOY: So officials say that the variant first identified in the U.K. has become widespread across the U.S., based on limited studies. They're particularly concerned about certain parts of the country, like Florida and California. Models suggest that this variant is likely to become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March.

KELLY: OK. NPR's Maria Godoy, thank you.

GODOY: Thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Maria Godoy is a senior science and health editor and correspondent with NPR News. Her reporting can be heard across NPR's news shows and podcasts. She is also one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.