Should You Double-Mask? The CDC Finally Weighs In

Should You Double-Mask? The CDC Finally Weighs In

Some experts have suggested that it’s time double-mask (meaning to wear two face masks at once) because doing so could provide better protection from covid-19—especially with the arrival of new coronavirus variants. But is that really necessary for the general public? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are now finally weighing in with some new data.

At this point, you probably already know that wearing a face mask can help prevent the spread of covid-19. That’s because the virus spreads mainly through respiratory droplets that people who have the infection may expel when they talk, cough, sneeze, or yell. The respiratory droplets, which can contain particles of the coronavirus, can go on to infect other people by landing in their eyes, nose, or mouth. Other people can also inhale the droplets. A mask provides a physical barrier that can prevent both the wearer and those around them from letting out respiratory droplets or inhaling them.

But we know that some masks are more effective at doing this job than others. In particular, N95 respirators and surgical masks are the most effective, followed by cloth masks with three layers of fabric. Knowing that most of us who aren’t working in health care are using cloth masks, some people—including Anthony Fauci, M.D., CNBC reports—have suggested that wearing two masks at once could provide more protection. 

And it does make some sense, as SELF explained previously. More layers of fabric will add more layers of protection. But, as the CDC explains in a new study, it’s not just about the type of mask you’re wearing. Making sure the mask fits tightly to your face is also essential for getting the maximum level of protection—no matter what type of mask you have. Over the last month, the CDC conducted various types of lab experiments to assess the effectiveness of different methods of wearing masks. The CDC looked at double-masking (specifically, wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask) and knotting the loops of a surgical mask, and they cite other recent studies that looked at mask fitters and nylon sheets that go over cloth or surgical masks.

The CDC found that all of these methods could increase the effectiveness of a single cloth or surgical mask, but the researchers stop short of recommending that everyone use these techniques. “Until vaccine-induced population immunity is achieved, universal masking is a highly effective means to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2,” the researchers write. “The data in this report underscore the finding that good fit can increase overall mask efficiency. Multiple simple ways to improve fit have been demonstrated to be effective. Continued innovative efforts to improve the fit of cloth and medical procedure masks to enhance their performance merit attention.”

Additionally, the CDC released some new guidance for making sure your mask fits tightly, such as:

  • Choosing a mask with a nose wire that can close the space over your nose.
  • Using a mask fitter or mask brace over a surgical mask (like a Fix the Mask brace, for instance).
  • Adding additional layers of material by wearing a cloth mask with multiple layers or wearing a disposable surgical mask under the cloth mask (aka double-masking).

So is it really time for everyone to double-mask? Maybe! You should definitely still wear at least one mask. And some experts recommend double-masking specifically during higher-risk activities where you know you’ll be in close contact with other people, like going to the grocery story or doctor’s office, NPR reports. While the new CDC data suggest that could offer better protection, it didn’t examine how these strategies perform in the real world. The CDC researchers also caution that wearing two masks at once could make it more difficult for some people to breathe.

Ultimately, then, the takeaway from the new data is to simply wear a mask that fits well—and to know that there are now multiple relatively easy ways to improve the fit of your mask, including double-masking.


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