Want to better avoid the new, more infectious strains of coronavirus raging across the United States? Cinch tight or double up on your face mask.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said as much when it announced updated guidance earlier this month. While any mask is better than none, according to Dr. John T. Brooks, chief medical officer for the agency’s COVID-19 response and lead author of a new government study on masking, wearing a snug-fitting respirator-style mask or layering a washable cloth mask on top of a disposable medical procedure one — aka “double masking” — can reduce a person’s potential exposure to pathogen-containing respiratory droplets by up to 96 percent.
Most of this advice comes down to improving fit: any gaps between your face and mask allows virus particles to slip in or out. But material matters, too. The same study showed that multilayer cloth masks block between 50 to 75 percent of airborne droplets — a significant amount of protection, to be sure, but nowhere near as effective as the first two options.
For those who have been eschewing disposables for environmental reasons, the dilemma of choosing between safeguarding public health and preventing plastic pollution can be a vexing one.