Alicia Perez has been a double-masker for months now.
Perez, 31, of Monroe, is a real estate agent and a nurse, so she’s regularly in close contact with people. For her, the extra layer of protection against COVID-19 provided by a second mask offers peace of mind not just for her own safety, but for those with whom she comes in contact.
“It’s a no-brainer for me,” she said.
A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention backs that up, showing modifications that resulted in a tighter mask fit helped decrease the distribution of particles from a simulated cough. One of these modifications was layering a cloth mask over a surgical mask. The other modification studied was knotting the ear loops of a surgical mask where they attach to the mask’s edges and then tucking in and flattening the extra material close to the face.
Though experts said it’s no surprise these changes made the masks more effective, they don’t expect any kind of official recommendation for double-masking or other mask modifications any time soon.
“I don’t know how you get the message across without alienating people who don’t want to wear one mask,” said Lisa Cuchara, a professor in Quinnipiac University’s Department of Biomedical Sciences in the School of Health Sciences.
According to the CDC report, researchers conducted several experiments last month into improving mask performance. The first experiment studied how various mask combinations reduced the amount of particles expelled during a cough. Researchers put masks on a dummy, then had the dummy “cough” by producing aerosols from a mouthpiece.
Three different configurations were used — a three-ply medical procedure mask alone, a three-ply cloth cotton mask alone, and the three-ply cloth mask covering the three-ply medical procedure mask.
They found that an unknotted surgical mask alone blocked 42 percent of the particles from a simulated cough, and a cloth mask alone blocked 44.3 percent of particles. But double-masking blocked 92.5 percent of particles.
In the second experiment, researchers examined how well various modifications “reduced exposure to aerosols emitted during a period of breathing.” Researchers used 10 different combinations of masking, including double-masking and wearing a knotted and tucked surgical mask.
According to the CDC report, a “knotted and tucked medical procedure mask is created by bringing together the corners and ear loops on each side, knotting the ears loops together where they attach to the mask, and then tucking in and flattening the resulting extra mask material to minimize the side gaps.”
This time, two dummies were used — a “source” (the one expelling the aerosols) and the “receiver” (the one breathing in the aerosols). When the source was double-masked, the researchers found it reduced the exposure of an unmasked received by 82 percent. When the source was wearing a knotted and tucked surgical mask, it reduced exposure by 62.9 percent.
When the source was unmasked and the receiver wore a double mask or the knotted and tucked medical procedure mask, the receiver’s exposure was reduced by 83 percent and 64.5 percent, respectively. When the source and receiver were both fitted with double masks or knotted and tucked masks, the cumulative exposure of the receiver was reduced 96.4 percent and 95.9 percent, respectively.
The research supports what a lot of doctors already knew: When a mask is tighter, it does a better job.
Even with the double-masking, “the additional layer isn’t for layering, it’s for fit,” said Keith Grant, senior system director of infection prevention at Hartford Healthcare. He said he doesn’t think the CDC report is going to cause a huge spate of double-masking requirements, but he hopes it will make people be more aware of the fit of their face covering.
“Make sure whatever mask you wear, it’s an approved mask that’s well-fitted,” he said.
Cuchara agreed that the main objective of layering masks is to “increase your seal.” But, Cuchara said, she’s not sure the CDC report is going to move anyone to layer up.
“We still don’t have the public wearing one mask and still have people who aren’t wearing a mask over their nose,” she said.
Thomas Giardini, 48, a hairdresser and owner of Salon 25 in Monroe, said he’s respected mask guidelines and other COVID guidance. But he’s not sure he could handle two masks.
“You have a hot blow dryer blowing on you, which makes it hotter when you’re working with a mask on,” he said. “If I wore double masks, I’d probably need oxygen.”