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According to findings from a CDC study, wearing a cloth mask on top of a surgical mask helps improve the fit of the surgical mask. The closer the mask fits to your face, the fewer gaps there are between the mask and your face for coronavirus respiratory droplets to enter. The study found that “the exposure of the recipient was maximally reduced (> 95%) when the source and recipient were equipped with modified masks for medical procedures. These laboratory experiments emphasize the importance of a good fit to optimize mask performance.”
Because layered masks reduce the porosity of your, it’s also more likely to protect you better from those contagious respiratory drops – just like layered coats protect you from the cold and just like an N95 (which is less porous) has a better chance of protecting you from environmental fumes, while a cloth mask (more porous) doesn’t stand a chance.
It’s not all about common sense, though. The concept of double masking is supported by some scientific studies, and no, wearing two masks won’t suffocate you. Here’s what you need to know about wearing two masks to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The science behind double masking
Dr. Fauci’s recommendation comes in the light of new strains of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, which are believed to be more transmissible than the primary strain of SARS-CoV-2.
“With a more transmissible virus, this means that any exposure has a greater chance of spreading,” said Andrea Love, an immunologist and microbiologist. “We now need to be more rigorous in our behavior, including social distancing, minimizing travel to public places, avoiding indoor spaces and always wearing a mask.”
“But not just any mask is enough”, Love emphasizes. “Quality is important.”
Masks work by trapping and blocking respiratory droplets that contain virus particles, Love explains. “The more physical barriers put in place, the more of these droplets you can block, lowering the risk to yourself and others around you,” she says. Ideally, the more layers the better, especially if you wear a thin layer. Even if you wear surgical masks, which generally already have two thin layers, you can still benefit from doubling, Love says.
It’s important to understand that cloth masks, like the ones routinely worn by most people, were meant to be a stopgap, says Love. Many fabric face covers offer little to no protection, she says, depending on the material, number of layers and fit, which is why health experts recommend layering.
In fact, three layers really are the best: A recent (not yet peer-reviewed) study tested 11 mask materials and found that masks are more protective when they have three layers, two tightly woven fabric layers with a non-woven, high-efficiency filter material sandwiched in between . If you don’t already have a three-layer mask, you can mimic this by wearing a cloth mask and a surgical mask – more on that below.
When to wear two masks
If you’re walking outside and aren’t around people outside of your household, a single mask should be enough, Love says. However, if you plan to be around people who are away from your home, even outdoors, “a simple solution is double masking.”
Will wearing two masks make it difficult to breathe?
Wearing two masks shouldn’t make breathing more difficult, Love says. Several studies have shown that wearing masks does not hinder oxygen consumption (even in adults over 65 years old). “The size of an oxygen molecule is orders of magnitude smaller than the pore size of masks,” says Love, but the problem is “many people don’t realize the difference between discomfort and a true physiological effect.”
Even with two face masks, you can still get the oxygen you need and expel carbon dioxide from your body. Two masks may not feel comfortable at first, but they are still safe to wear.
Of course it can take some getting used to, especially if you wear two masks while exercising. You may get sweeter than usual as the weather warms. But a little discomfort is much better than contracting COVID-19 or being responsible for its spread.
How to properly double mask
Simply wearing one cloth mask over another can improve the protection of your face covering, but a different combination can help more.
Wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask allows you to mimic the filter cloth combination that studies have shown to be more protective. The surgical mask acts like a filter, and the cloth mask provides an extra layer of protection while improving the fit, says Love. If your two masks are a good fit, this combination should “yield an overall efficiency of greater than 90% for particles 1 micron and larger, which corresponds to the average size of respiratory aerosols most important in SARS-CoV transmission. 2. “
As Dr. Fauci told Today, “If you have one layer of physical coverage, you put another layer on it, it just makes sense that it would probably be more effective.”
The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care practitioner if you have any questions about a medical condition or health goals.