Double Masking to Fight COVID-19: Experts Explain How It Works


A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, we are still learning new things about the deadly virus and how we can best protect ourselves. We’ve learned about the value of social distancing, good ventilation, and other measures, but some medical professionals are now suggesting that two masks, worn simultaneously, might be better than one.

We’ve long known that face masks are a great tool to help limit the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Earlier in February, the CDC announced it was studying the effectiveness of double masking; on February 10, as the Associated Press reported, CDC researchers announced that, in an experiment, they found two masks are better than one.

Teen Vogue spoke to two experts to better understand why Dr. Anthony Fauci and others are talking about this new form of protection.

Why are experts recommending we double mask?

The reason experts are now recommending people wear two masks is simple: When worn with a snug fit, it’s a way to increase the efficacy of masks at a time when new strains of the virus are raising concerns about increased transmissibility.

Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech and an expert in virus transmission, tells Teen Vogue that new variants of the virus are “more easily transmitted.”

The effectiveness of cloth masks can vary, from 10% to 90%, but Marr says 50% is generally a “decent estimate.” Double masking can add an extra layer of protection. Some medical professionals have been doing this for months, says Karen Jubanyik, an emergency medicine physician at Yale Medicine. “The health care providers were wearing two masks for a while,” Dr. Jubanyik tells Teen Vogue. “Oftentimes, we were allowed to wear a mask over our surgical mask in certain settings or a surgical mask over our N95.”

What does double masking look like?

Marr says one of the most effective ways to double mask is to wear a surgical mask with a tight-fitting cloth mask on top of it. Or you could cut the straps off a surgical mask and use it as a filter placed inside of a cloth mask. Wearing a neck gaiter over a face mask also adds an extra layer of protection. Marr cautions, make sure you can still breathe through whatever mask setup you put together.

Jubanyik notes that a tightly woven mask that has two or three layers is essentially the same concept as double masking. When possible, the doctor warns, people should be mindful of their disposable surgical mask usage for environmental reasons. If you’re in an outdoor environment with few others around, consider wearing a cloth mask (or two) that you can wash and reuse instead.

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Is there an easy way to tell if your mask is working effectively?

Marr says there aren’t any standards for companies selling masks to nonmedical staff, but there are a few things you can look out for to determine if you have a good mask. “More layers in a cloth mask is better, especially if it mentions a filtering layer,” she tells Teen Vogue. “If you’re buying surgical masks, you should look for ‘ASTM’ on there.”

According to CNN, there may soon be face mask standards to help guide consumers to better products. The outlet reported that ASTM International and the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory are hoping to develop standards that will “establish minimum design, performance (testing), labeling, user instruction, reporting and classification, and conformity assessment requirements for barrier face coverings.”



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