After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finally weighed in on the double-mask debate, Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, is showing the public exactly how it’s done.
Dr. Fauci did his impromptu demo during an appearance on NBC’s Today show Thursday morning while explaining the reasoning behind the new CDC guidance. He also clarified that the CDC is not actually requiring people to wear two masks—but they are telling us that two is better than one, as SELF reported.
“The recommendation is not that you have to wear [two masks],” Dr. Fauci told anchor Savannah Guthrie. “What the CDC is saying is, at minimum, wear a mask,” he said, putting his disposable surgical mask on. “Then, you want it to fit better. So one of the ways you could do it, if you would like to, is put a cloth mask over [the surgical mask],” Dr. Fauci continued, pulling his cloth mask over the first.
The purpose of the optional second mask is to contain potential leakage from ill-fitting surgical masks, Dr. Fauci demonstrated, pointing to gaps on the tops, side, and bottom of his mask. As SELF explained previously, masks act as a physical barrier against the larger respiratory droplets (that people who have the infection may expel when coughing, talking, and sneezing) and tiny aerosolized particles (which can linger in the air and travel farther than six feet) that can spread COVID-19. The better your mask fits your face, the less space there is for infectious particles to get in or out, which helps prevent the virus from spreading.
Dr. Fauci said that he “occasionally” is a double-masker himself for that reason. “Mostly, Savannah, for what the CDC is saying: The fit is better.” He said, “If you get the surgical mask on and you put a cloth mask over, those areas around where some aerosol can get in are better fitting.” And for those sticking with one mask, Dr. Fauci said it’s best to opt for a mask with at least two layers.
The new CDC guidance is based on lab experiments and other recent studies assessing the efficacy of different ways of wearing masks, SELF explained. Based on this research, the CDC shared several suggestions for improving mask protectiveness. Those suggestions include wearing more than one layer of material by either using a multilayer mask or double-masking (specifically, wearing a disposable mask under a cloth mask).
Dr. Fauci is hopeful that this basic public health strategy (plus social distancing) in combination with an expedited vaccine rollout will be enough to mitigate the spread of new COVID-19 variants in the U.S., like the more infectious strain first identified in the U.K. He said, “If we do those two things, as serious as we take that variant, we will be able to meet that challenge.”