Maximizing Fit for Cloth and Medical Procedure Masks to Improve Performance and Reduce SARS-CoV-2 Transmission and Exposure, 2021
OPEN MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report | 19 Feb 2021
JT Brooks, DH Beezhold, JD Noti, JP Coyle, RC Derk, FM Blachere and WG Lindsley
Universal masking is one of the prevention strategies recommended by CDC to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) (1). As of February 1, 2021, 38 states and the District of Columbia had universal masking mandates. Mask wearing has also been mandated by executive order for federal property* as well as on domestic and international transportation conveyances.† Masks substantially reduce exhaled respiratory droplets and aerosols from infected wearers and reduce exposure of uninfected wearers to these particles. Cloth masks§ and medical procedure masks¶ fit more loosely than do respirators (e.g., N95 facepieces). The effectiveness of cloth and medical procedure masks can be improved by ensuring that they are well fitted to the contours of the face to prevent leakage of air around the masks' edges. During January 2021, CDC conducted experimental simulations using pliable elastomeric source and receiver headforms to assess the extent to which two modifications to medical procedure masks, 1) wearing a cloth mask over a medical procedure mask (double masking) and 2) knotting the ear loops of a medical procedure mask where they attach to the mask’s edges and then tucking in and flattening the extra material close to the face (knotted and tucked masks), could improve the fit of these masks and reduce the receiver’s exposure to an aerosol of simulated respiratory droplet particles of the size considered most important for transmitting SARS-CoV-2. The receiver’s exposure was maximally reduced (>95%) when the source and receiver were fitted with modified medical procedure masks. These laboratory-based experiments highlight the importance of good fit to optimize mask performance. Until vaccine-induced population immunity is achieved, universal masking is a highly effective means to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2** when combined with other protective measures, such as physical distancing, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces, and good hand hygiene. Innovative efforts to improve the fit of cloth and medical procedure masks to enhance their performance merit attention.
* Data courtesy of Altmetric.com