Should you wear two face masks?

Virus surges and more transmissible variants can significantly increase our risk of infection. Many experts are recommending wearing both a cloth and a surgical mask. Unfortunately, there is still a shortage of n95 masks, the “gold standard” for protection, with too many counterfeit masks.

Newer post with with lots of info and tips. Surgical and Cloth Face Masks – What to Buy and Where to Purchase February 4, 2021

Cloth mask on top. Surgical mask underneath.

Wearing two masks has become a hot topic since President Biden’s inauguration on January 20, 2021. The Poet Laureate, a young woman, wore two masks. Pete Buttigieg and his husband both wore cloth masks over white surgical masks.

The problem with surgical masks is that they are not made to fit well around your face, especially on the sides,nose and mouth. Too much air goes in and out. They are designed to keep patients safe from nurses and doctors who are infected.  

Cloth face masks can fit very well as they are very flexible, can fit closely, and are easy to find.

What are experts saying?

“If you have a physical covering with one layer, you put another layer, it just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective,” said Anthony S. Fauci.

A mask is like an obstacle course for particles to get through,” said Linsey Marr, an expert in virus transmission and a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech. “Adding a second mask adds another obstacle course, increasing the chance that the particle will be trapped before it gets through to the other side.”

Which mask goes on top?

I have seen and heard differences of opinion on which one goes outside, but most say cloth on top.

Monica Gandhi, MD, MPH, a Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and Linsey C. Marr, Ph.D., the Charles P. Lunsford Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech said that wearing a cloth mask tightly on top of a surgical mask could provide more protection than one cloth or surgical mask.

Gandhi has also said scientifically, it doesn’t matter which mask you put on first. She suggests basing that decision on comfort or which one you’re trying to make last longer. She recommends having the cloth mask against your skin and the surgical mask on top. “You can wash the cloth mask more readily, and the surgical mask you could use literally for a full 7 days, probably before it loses its give,” she says.

When to wear two masks

For risky places, you could wear two masks. Examples are being indoors with others outside of your immediate social bubble, restaurants, churches, public transportation, etc. Also, being outside in a crowd is risky.

For less risky places such as walking outside, one mask should be okay.  People have different opinions on what is risky for them. I always say everyone is different. You decide what is risky for you, including which mask(s) work for you.

What about 3 or more masks?

If two layers are better than one layer, how about three layers? Gandhi and Marr did mention a three-layer mask as a possibility for extra protection. Such a mask could have two outer layers made out of a flexible, tightly woven fabric that can conform to your face and sandwich a middle layer. You are providing a barrier to your nose and mouth.

Filter inserts for face masks

If you purchase a mask that allows filter inserts, the middle layer should be something like a vacuum cleaner filter that can block small particles. Search Amazon for filter inserts for face mask.

My test of two masks

 I have three-layer cloth masks (adjustable loops and metal nose bridges), medical and nonmedical surgical masks. The surgical masks fit a little better on top, but fit better underneath as the cloth mask pressed them down. I need to wear them longer to test how comfortable they are for me.

More than 3 masks?

 We have to breathe air from outside unless we use a portable air filter, full head covering, and a flexible tube between the air filter and the head covering.

Adding more and more mask layers may eventually make it tougher to exchange air. The optimal number of face masks is a balance between filtering and breathing and depends on the structure and material of the mask.

References (non-technical)

FAQ: Single or double? The latest advice on masks and covid. 1-26-21
When are two masks better than one for preventing COVID-19? 1-20-21 Good links to more references.
Two Masks Are the New Masks Double-masking is a sensible and easy way to lower your risk when you have to spend more time around others — in a taxi, on a train or plane, or at an inauguration. 1-21-21

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