To mask or to double mask? That's been the question at the forefront of pop culture in recent weeks, after several attendees at President Biden's inauguration were seen wearing two masks, one layered atop the other, and some health experts suggested doubling up in response to new COVID-19 strains. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hasn't yet changed its official recommendation: The agency says everyone should wear a mask—a single mask—that has certain characteristics. But how long has been since you consulted those guidelines? Is your current mask supply still up to par? Read on for their essential advice—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.
Do Not Wear Masks That Make it Hard to Breathe
Do not wear masks that are "made of fabric that makes it hard to breathe, for example, vinyl." Also avoid ones made of leather or plastic. "If you wear glasses, find a mask that fits closely over your nose or one that has a nose wire to limit fogging," says the CDC.
The CDC Says Avoid Masks With Valves
Do not wear masks that "have exhalation valves or vents which allow virus particles to escape," says the CDC. “The purpose of masks is to keep respiratory droplets from reaching others to aid with source control,” the agency’s guidance reads. “However, masks with one-way valves or vents allow air to be exhaled through a hole in the material, which can result in expelled respiratory droplets that can reach others. This type of mask does not prevent the person wearing the mask from transmitting COVID-19 to others."
The CDC Says Avoid Masks That Healthcare Workers Need, Like N95
No need for masks that are "intended for healthcare workers, including N95 respirators or surgical masks," says the CDC. "They're very hard to breathe in when you wear them properly," said Rochelle Walensky, the new head of the CDC, at. CNN Town Hall. "They're very hard to tolerate when you wear them for long periods of time."
The CDC Recommends These Masks
The CDC's guide to masks recommends that you choose a face mask that
Has two or more layers of breathable, washable fabric
Completely covers your mouth and nose
Fits snugly against the side of your face, without any gaps
If you're wearing a scarf, balaclava or ski mask this winter, you should wear it over your face mask. The CDC warns that these accessories should not be worn as a substitute for a mask.
"Everybody should be wearing a mask," said Dr. Walensky during a CNN town hall on COVID-19 last week. "If you're wearing a cloth mask, it should be a multi-layered mask, so that you have several layers of potential protection."
After the town hall, Walensky tweeted: "Please #WearAMask to protect yourself and others from #COVID19. Masks work best when everyone wears one, but they are not a substitute for social distancing. Masks should still be worn in addition to staying at least 6 ft apart (esp. indoors around people you don't live with)." She included a link to the CDC's latest scientific brief on masks, which listed several studies showing that community masking has reduced or prevented the spread of COVID.
Travel Mask Mandate Goes Into Effect Tuesday
Now is a good time to make sure you have enough masks, and that they're of sufficient quality: As of 11:59pm Eastern time on Tuesday, the CDC is requiring that all travelers on airplanes, ships, trains, subways, buses, taxis, and ride-shares—and at transportation centers such as airports, bus and boat terminals, train and subway stations—wear masks.
How to Stay Healthy During This Pandemic
As for yourself, do everything you can to prevent getting—and spreading—COVID-19 in the first place: Wear a face mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.