1 Mask Is Good. Are 2 Masks Better? It Depends…Coronavirus (COVID-19)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently endorsed double masking—wearing a cloth mask over a disposable surgical mask—to improve protection against COVID-19.
The suggestion comes as multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 are circulating globally.
The CDC recently updated its recommendation based on data from a recent study that found double masking reduces exposure to possibly contaminated aerosol particles by about 90 percent.
In comparison, wearing a single cloth mask that hasn’t been appropriately fitted blocks only 51 percent of the particles and wearing a single surgical mask blocks 56 percent when subjected to a simulated cough.
“Double masking is not a requirement. That’s not the CDC’s recommendation," says Dr. Stephanie Stovall, Interim Chief of Quality and Patient Safety for Lee Health System. “The CDC is saying wear a mask, at a minimum. But if the fit of your mask isn’t ideal or you’re unsure, adding a cloth mask over your paper mask will add more protection by better fit.
“What’s key behind the CDC’s recommendation is the importance of wearing a well-fitting mask can significantly reduce the risk of coronavirus infection,” Dr. Stovall explains. “For some people, double masking may improve mask fit.
“Again, it’s not a requirement to double mask. It’s better to wear one, well-fitting mask than two or more layered masks that fit your face poorly.”
Here’s how to double mask
When layering masks, the CDC says don’t layer two disposable masks together. Instead, wear a cloth mask over a disposable mask. The top mask (cloth) should push the edges of the bottom (disposable) mask against your face.
“The CDC says because disposable masks aren’t designed to fit tightly, wearing two disposable masks together won’t improve fit,” Dr. Stovall says. “For a mask to have a snug fit, it should sit over your nose, under your chin, and against your cheeks without any gaps. Even the smallest gaps can leak respiratory droplets in the air to your nose and mouth.”
Researchers claim wearing masks is 90 percent effective at stopping the spread of the coronavirus. Reversing the order of the masks, they say, could make it less effective.
Have a KN95 mask? Don’t layer it.
The CDC warns against double masking with KN95 masks, nor should you combine a KN95 mask with any other mask.
What’s a good mask fit?
A mask that fits well should allow warm air to ventilate through the front of the mask. You should be able to see the mask material move in and out with each breath, the CDC says. There also shouldn’t be any gaps.
- Completely cover the nose and mouth
- Fit snugly against the sides of the face and not have any gaps
- Be handled only by the ear loops, cords, or head straps (not by the surface of the mask)
Masks should be worn:
- Any time you are in a public setting
- Any time you are traveling on a plane, bus, train, or other form of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations
- When you are around people who do not live with you, including inside your home or inside someone else’s home
- Inside your home if someone you live with is sick with symptoms of COVID-19 or has tested positive for COVID-19
Masks should not be worn:
- By a child under 2 years of age
- By someone with a disability who cannot wear a mask, or cannot safely wear a mask, for reasons related to the disability
- In a situation when wearing a mask would create a risk to workplace health, safety, or job duty as determined by the workplace risk assessment
*All mask recommendations are sourced from the CDC website. Go here for more information on wearing a mask and personal protective equipment in healthcare workplaces.
Double masking? Great. But there’s still risk
Masks are critical for preventing the spread of COVID-19. The data from the CDC reinforces the role that each one of us can play in protecting ourselves and our community.
“We urge everyone to wear a mask that covers the nose and mouth and that fits snugly,” Dr. Stovall says. “But practicing safety to prevent the spread of COVID-19 doesn’t start or end with wearing one or two masks. We should continue to follow the proven steps that are crucial to controlling the pandemic.”
In addition to consistently and correctly wearing masks, everyone should continue to take these important steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19, Dr. Stovall says:
- Stay at least 6 feet (at least 2 arm lengths) away from others who do not live with you
- Avoid crowds
- Avoid poorly ventilated indoor spaces
- Stay home when you are sick
- Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (or use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol)
- Get vaccinated when the vaccine is available to you
- Get tested if you have signs or symptoms of COVID-19, or if you think you may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19