Face coverings have been used heavily to protect against COVID since the start of the pandemic, but there may be more that you can be doing with your masks. Recently, people have been spotted donning two face masks instead of just one. For instance, President-elect Joe Biden has been seen doing this, and so have NFL coach Bill Belichick and Republican senator Mitt Romney. As it turns out, they may be onto something. Experts say layering your mask with another could actually keep you even safer from COVID. Read on to find out more about how this method works, and for more on slowing the spread of coronavirus, This COVID Protection Measure Is "Not Working," Doctor Warns.
Wearing two masks can give you higher levels of protection.
N95 masks are the best at filtering for COVID, but since these are in short supply and meant to be reserved for health care workers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended the use of cloth coverings and surgical masks to those in the general public. While less protective, research has found that these masks can be at least 50 percent effective in stopping respiratory droplets from entering and exiting someone's airflow.
But if you want to raise your efficacy levels higher, you don't necessarily need an N95 mask to do so. Linsey Marr, PhD, an expert in virus transmission at Virginia Tech and an author on a recent commentary laying out the science behind mask-wearing, told The New York Times that "if you combine multiple layers, you start achieving pretty high efficiencies" of blocking the coronavirus from reaching you. And for coronavirus symptoms to be aware of, discover The Earliest Signs You Have COVID, According to Johns Hopkins.
The CDC has already warned against masks that do not have enough layers.
The CDC specifically notes that they do not recommend masks with only one layer. So if you own "less specialized masks" with only one layer, Marr says wearing two masks can help you abide by the CDC recommendation of masks with two or three layers.
If you have both cloth masks and surgical masks, Marr recommends wearing a tighter, face-hugging cloth mask over a surgical mask. You should also double-up when wearing scarves, ski masks, and balaclavas, as the CDC says they aren't suitable for coronavirus protection. However, you can layer and wear another mask under these items for protection, the CDC notes. And for more CDC news, The CDC Just Made This COVID Precaution Mandatory.
But layering too much can also affect your breathing.
Marr says that, at some point, mask wearers could "run the risk of making it too hard to breathe" by layering up too many filtering masks. It would be rare, however, to reach that extreme point by layering only two masks, she clarifies.
You should also avoid layering any masks made from material that is hard to breathe through like plastic or leather. The CDC does not recommend these as masks in general, and layering them with any other type of mask may only restrict your airflow further. And for more up-to-date information, sign up for our daily newsletter.
And this method doesn't negate other coronavirus precaution methods.
Wearing more than one mask doesn't mean you don't need to practice other coronavirus precaution methods. "We have to be honest that the best response is one that requires multiple interventions," Jennifer Nuzzo, a public health expert at Johns Hopkins University, told The New York Times.
People should still maintain their physical distance from others and wash their hands, even when out and wearing extra protection. After all, a December study published in Physics of Fluids found that while most masks dramatically reduce the number of droplets being spread, enough droplets to infect someone could still spread through most masks when at a distance of less than six feet. And for more on coronavirus protection, If You Don't Have This in Your Home, You're at Higher Risk for COVID.