Wearing a mask – any mask – will reduce the risk of infection with the coronavirus. However, wearing a tight-fitting surgical mask or putting a cloth mask on top of a surgical mask can greatly improve protection for the wearer and others, the Centers for Disease Control and reported prevention on Wednesday.

New research by the agency shows that the transmission of the virus can be reduced by up to 96.5 percent if both an infected and an uninfected person wear tight-fitting surgical masks or a combination of cloth and surgical mask.

Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the CDC, announced the results during the coronavirus briefing at the White House on Wednesday, urging Americans to wear “a well-fitting mask” with two or more layers. President Biden has urged Americans to wear masks for the first 100 days of his presidency, and Dr. Walensky said masks were especially important given concerns about the proliferation of new varieties.

“With hospital stays and deaths still very high, now is not the time to reset the mask requirements,” she said, adding, “The bottom line is, masks work, and they work when they’re a good fit and right be worn. ”

Virus-related deaths, which rose sharply in the US in November and are still high, appear to be steadily falling. In the past month, new virus cases and hospital stays began to decline. However, researchers caution that a more contagious variant of the virus, first found in the UK, is doubling in the US about every 10 days. The CDC warned last month that it could become the dominant variant in the nation by March.

By February 1, 14 states and the District of Columbia had adopted universal masking mandates. Masking is now mandatory on federal property as well as on national and international transports. Although masks are known to reduce both respiratory droplets and aerosols exhaled by infected wearers and protect the uninfected wearer, their effectiveness varies widely as air leaks from the edges of the mask.

Updated

Apr. 10, 2021, 9:41 am ET

“Any mask is better than none,” said Dr. John Brooks, lead author of the new CDC study. “There is ample and compelling data that mask wear reduces the spread and new infections are declining in masked communities.”

However, the new research shows how protection can be improved. The agency’s new laboratory experiments are based on ideas from Linsey Marr, an aerosol transfer expert at Virginia Tech, and Dr. Monica Gandhi, who studies infectious diseases at the University of California at San Francisco.

One way to reduce transmission is to wear a cloth mask over a surgical mask, the agency said. The alternative is to “knot and tuck” the surgical mask closer to the face – that is, the two strands of the ear loops are knotted together where they are attached to the edge of the mask, and then the extra fabric is folded over and over flattened the mask edge and tuck it in for a tighter seal.

Dr. Brooks warned that the new study is based on laboratory experiments and it is unclear how these masking recommendations will work in the real world (the experiments used three-layer surgical masks and cloth masks). “But it is very clear evidence that the more of us wear masks and the better the mask fits, the more each of us benefits individually.”

Other effective options that improve fit include using a mask fitter – a face-designed frame – over a mask, or wearing a sleeve of pure nylon stocking material around your neck that is pulled over a drape or surgical mask, so the CDC.

Even if vaccines are slowly rolling out across the country, the advent of new varieties, which may respond differently to treatments or to some extent evade the immune system, has led health officials to stress that Americans should continue to take protective measures, such as masking .

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