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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Wearing two face masks or adjusting a mask to fit more snuggly can better help protect against COVID-19 and its highly transmissible variants, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised in new guidance out Wednesday.

Why it matters: Modeling shows the B.1.1.7 variant from the U.K. could become the dominant strain in the U.S. by the end of March, said Anthony Fauci, President Biden's chief medical adviser, on Wednesday.

"We should not despair with that because there are things that we can do to prevent that. It is not outside of our power to do that," Fauci said in a COVID response meeting.

  • "For example, the vaccines that we are using clearly are effective against this. We know that from in vitro correlate studies as well as for vaccines that are other candidates," he added.

The state of play: Wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask, knotting the ear loops of a surgical mask and tucking in extra material, or wearing a "mask fitter" device for a closer fit are all effective ways to reduce transmission, the study says.

  • Both methods reduced exposure to potentially infectious aerosols by more than 95% in a laboratory experiment using dummies.
  • Mask-wearing is to be used along with social distancing, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces, and practicing frequent handwashing, Fauci said.

The big picture: The study comes as public health experts urge people to upgrade their masks to better protect against COVID-19 transmission while they wait for the vaccine to become more available.

  • Another CDC study released earlier this month shows the mask mandates work in reducing hospitalization rates.
  • As of Feb. 2, the Biden administration has required masks on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within or out of the United States and in transportation centers like airports and stations.

Go deeper

Feb 10, 2021 - Health

Colleges run into COVID-19 variants

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The highly contagious U.K. variant of COVID-19 has popped up on many college campuses, calling into question their plans to let more students back on campus this spring, The New York Times reports.

Why it matters: The U.K. variant is expected to become the dominant strain within the U.S. relatively soon, and colleges' experience with it could foreshadow what's next for society at large.

Feb 10, 2021 - Health

Exclusive: Another step forward for rapid coronavirus testing

Photo: Visby Medical

The first single-use, highly accurate rapid coronavirus test has received the all-clear from the Food and Drug Administration to be used in a wide variety of settings, per its manufacturer, Visby Medical.

Why it matters: Even with vaccines, widespread coronavirus testing is still essential for safely returning to normal life.

Feb 10, 2021 - Health

How to get COVID-19 vaccines to communities of color

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The COVID vaccine campaign can be an opportunity to address long standing disparities in the health care provided to people of color, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security said Tuesday in a proposal for how to distribute the vaccines equitably.

Why it matters: People of color have been hit especially hard not just by the pandemic, but also by the disruptions caused by it.