Does wearing two face masks offer more protection from COVID-19? Experts weigh in


Face masks protect you from coronavirus, but is there a benefit to double-masking?

Some of the nation’s most prominent figures have been spotted wearing two masks including president-elect Joe Biden, and now, some researchers are condoning it, according to the New York Times.

We already know that there is strong evidence backing the usage of one mask that covers your nose and mouth. According to the CDC, not only do face masks offer a protective barrier that helps prevent the spread of the respiratory virus, but they also reduce hospitalizations and deaths.

But when it comes to two masks, the verdict is still out as there doesn’t seem to be concrete data on the additional benefits.

Still, experts say it’s worth considering if you’re wearing a thin or non-medical grade face mask.

“If you combine multiple layers, you start achieving pretty high efficiencies” of blocking viruses, said Linsey Marr, an expert in virus transmission at Virginia Tech and author.

This is especially important as new variants of the virus, described to be highly-contagious and easily spread, are discovered.

“Double masking adds an extra layer of filter, making it even more difficult for the drops of moisture ridden with the virus to get to you or to spread to others,” says Aline M. Holmes, D.N.P., R.N., a clinical associate professor at the Rutgers University School of Nursing.

Wearing two masks can also come in handy when people are in high-risk settings like a hospital or a nursing home, or if they are sick with COVID and want to protect others.

However, it’s important to note that wearing two masks shouldn’t lull you into a false sense of security or replace important behaviors such as social distancing, washing your hands, and remaining isolated if you have symptoms.

“If you’re doubling up your mask and still engaging in risky behavior, that’s not going to help you,” says infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Though some experts may see the benefits of double-masking, William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told Good Housekeeping that he doesn’t think ‘it’s necessary.”

“I’m glad there are some people doubly committed to wearing a mask, but it’s not been studied,” he explained.

“Double masking may provide some additional protection in both directions — out as well as in — but it’s not officially recommended by anyone at this time,” he added.

Other doctors have admitted to doubling up on masks to protect the integrity of their N95 for future use as it remains in short supply.

“When I go into a COVID patient’s room, I wear two — an N95 respirator with a surgical one over it,” says Richard Watkins, M.D., an infectious disease physician and a professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University. “When I come out, I throw away the surgical one and keep the N95,” he added.

In short, the verdict seems to be that “it can’t hurt” to wear two face masks, but it is discouraged if it impacts your ability to breathe or if you’re engaging in risky behavior.

Whether you plan to wear one mask or two, the important thing is that you “make sure the first mask fits well over your nose and mouth,” Dr. Schaffner says.

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