The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated their masking guidelines on Wednesday, officially suggesting that Americans should “double mask” to prevent the spread of COVID-19 amid concerns about new, more contagious variants of the virus.
Experts have been warning of the potential need to “double mask” — that is, wearing a tight-fitting cloth mask over a surgical mask — since late January, according to The Washington Post, after reports about new, more dangerous coronavirus mutations emerged from Africa and Europe. The variant that struck the United Kingdom at the end of 2020, ravaging that country through January of 2021, is 70% more transmissible, according to experts who spoke to the Post, leaving many individuals — particularly young adults — more vulnerable to contracting the virus.
In late January, the CDC told The Post that they were suggesting individuals wear “higher quality” masks rather than stack two masks over each other.
“The existence of more-transmissible viruses emphasizes the importance of us upping our game and doing not more of the same but better of the same,” Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the outlet, referring to “higher quality” masks. “Yes, that is confusing to people, but the key is to share what we know when we know it and be frank about what we don’t know.”
Fox News noted Wednesday that the CDC was waiting until there was clear evidence of the benefits of double masking. “The agency had been waiting to see ‘hard data’ before making any adjustments, Dr. John Brooks, the CDC’s chief medical officer of the COVID-19 response, said during an Infectious Diseases Society of America briefing held late last month,” per Fox.
On Wednesday, though, the CDC officially adopted the “double masking” standard but noted that it may not be necessary to stack masks in all instances.
“The update, which was announced by CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky during a White House coronavirus briefing, comes after a lab experiment using simulated respiratory breaths found that placing a cloth mask over a medical procedure mask or using a medical procedure mask with knotted ear loops and tucked in sides decreased exposure to potentially infectious aerosols by about 95%,” Fox News reported.
The CDC does say that there are other ways to make masks more effective. Individuals can wear masks with nose wires, use a “mask brace” designed to hold in a surgical mask for a tighter fit or customize a surgical mask to fit more snugly against cheeks and chin.
At their core, the CDC says, the new guidelines are designed to “keep your respiratory droplets in and others’ out.”
“We want to put out there all the options that are available to people,” Dr. John Brooks said. “If we can people to mask period, that is the big first step.”
The CDC is expected to release a number of new recommendations on preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus this week, including guidelines on how schools can safely return to in-person instruction. The Biden administration said Tuesday that while it will likely not fulfill its promise of opening schools within the first 100 days of its tenure, it would like half of all schools to be open for in-person learning at least one day per week by May.