Two mask, or not two mask?
Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, face masks have become an integral part of our daily lives. Now, we never leave the house without one. Our purses, cars, backpacks, and drawers are filled with masks of different varieties, colors, and patterns. But even with all these masks, most people haven’t considered wearing more than one mask at once, until now.
New, highly contagious strains of the COVID-19 virus now spread faster than ever. According to The New York Times, the United Kingdom’s virus mutation has been shown to be up to 70 percent more contagious than other variants. The CDC and Dr. Anthony Fauci, our President's COVID-19 Chief Medical Adviser, recently updated their mask recommendations by suggesting that wearing two masks may help combat these new variants. So do we really have to wear two masks? And how is that different than wearing one?
Well, during a recent interview on Today, Dr. Fauci said that more than one physical face covering is “likely” to provide more protection against the transmission of COVID-19. With new infectious strains circulating, he said that wearing two masks “just makes common sense” and is likely more effective. The Washington Post also reported that some countries like Germany have required that people riding on public transportation or shopping in grocery stores wear medical-grade masks (aka N95s, KN95s, or surgical masks). However, unlike the German mandate, at this time, the CDC is not requiring that everyone in the United States wear medical-grade masks when out in public.
While medical-grade masks offer the most protection, cloth masks can still be effective when worn correctly. The CDC still recommends wearing cloth masks “in public settings, at events and gatherings, and anywhere they will be around other people." They did note, however, that it’s best if your cloth mask has multiple layers of fabric and it’s even better if you can layer it with a disposable mask underneath.
Nevertheless, simply masking up with two layers isn’t always enough. On February 10, the CDC released a report revealing that the fit of the mask is also extremely important when it comes to the effectiveness of our masks. Gaps in the masks’ fit can allow germs in and out, making them less effective for preventing illness. The CDC suggested multiple ways to ensure that masks fit correctly including wearing a cloth mask over a medical-grade mask and knotting the ear loops of a medical mask so it fits closer to the face. With these simple adjustments, exposure was reduced over 90 percent. Who wouldn’t want that easy fix?
At the end of the day, even if your masks fit perfectly and you layer up, it’s still important to continue to follow the basic COVID-19 precautionary rules, such as, frequently washing your hands, keeping a safe social distance from others, and avoiding large gatherings. While we all look forward to mask-free days sometime in the future, we will have to continue wearing masks for a lot longer if we ignore those basic precautions.