CDC Releases New Research Surrounding Effectiveness of Wearing Masks to Slow the Spread of COVID-19

The CDC's new research finds that wearing a surgical mask under a cloth mask and tightening the ear loops on a single surgical mask are effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19.

On Feb. 10, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  released new research about maximizing the effects of mask-wearing, as researchers found two main ways to improve the use of masks. This involves wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask or tightening the ear loops on one surgical mask.

The CDC published the article Wednesday, which is titled “Maximizing Fit for Cloth and Medical Procedure Masks to Improve Performance and Reduce SARS-CoV-2 Transmission and Exposure, 2021.” The article was submitted by Brooks et al., in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report under COVID-19 Reports.

The first new finding to improve mask fit is to wear a cloth mask on top of a surgical mask. The researchers found in their lab that this combination was effective to both prevent droplets from escaping an infected person’s mouth or nose as well as ensuring that the mask fits tightly enough to prevent an opening. 

After the CDC published this research, CBS conducted an interview with Ashish Jha, Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. Jha spoke about the findings.

"You start with that surgical mask and you just put a cloth mask on top of it,” Jha said. “You get a much better fit, you get better filtration. It is just much, much safer.”

The second finding concerned medical procedure masks and involves two parts. First, people should tie a single knot where the earloops meet the mask. Second, people should fold the extra mask material between the knot and the end of the mask. This tightly fitting mask will drastically increase the fit and effectiveness of a medical procedure mask.

In the Brooks et al. study, researchers found that if two people in relatively close contact wear masks in one of these two ways, exposure to the droplets that spread COVID-19 reduces by about 96%.

Both of the new recommendations focus on the fit of the mask to ensure proper protection. This is important because according to the CDC, “gaps can let air with respiratory droplets leak in and out around the edges of the mask.” Masks are effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19, but only if people wear them snug around their faces.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has found that the primary way the virus spreads is through droplets. The WHO official website states, “...droplets are released from the mouth or nose when an infected person coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings, for example. People who are in close contact with an infected person can catch COVID-19 when those infectious droplets get into their mouth, nose or eyes.”

Health experts from the WHO further explained how COVID-19 droplets infect people, defining droplets as "large mucus or saliva particles heavier than air that fall toward the ground as soon as they're expelled, and droplet transmission typically occurs when a droplet containing a virus comes in contact with another person's eyes, nose or mouth.”

The two recommendations both address the feasibility of viral droplets to enter another’s body. 

On Jan. 6, the U.S. reached a record number of deaths caused by COVID-19. The number of American deaths that day was around 3,900. It is imperative to ensure that people wear masks in the most effective way possible.