I’ve been seeing a lot of people wearing two masks lately. Honestly, at first I thought it seemed like a strategy that was more performance than science, and that it was just another example of American’s “more is better” approach to basically everything. But it turns out that I was wrong. According to new findings from health experts, wearing two masks offers more protection than wearing one alone.
“If you combine multiple layers, you start achieving pretty high efficiencies” of blocking the virus, Linsey Marr, an expert in virus transmission at Virginia Tech, told the New York Times. As Dave Hnida, a Colorado-based physician and medical editor explained it to CBS, “The reason for that is you do wind up getting more filtration of viral particles, it becomes more of an obstacle course for the viral particle to make its way from the air into your nose and throat and then into your lungs.”
The two-mask approach can be really helpful for people who don’t have access to medical grade N95 masks. “Two masks may actually equal the protection you would get from N-95 masks, which is considered the best mask there is short of a complete respirator-type unit,” Hnida told CBS. It can also offer an increased level of protection without making it difficult to be heard. You may have seen now President Biden wearing two masks, and football coaches and senators have also adopted double masking as a way to curb the spread of COVID-19 when they have to speak to crowds, or at least groups, of people.
Most of the people you are likely to see double masking are using the now ubiquitous light blue surgical masks, but you can achieve the same level of protection without disrupting the supply chain of those much-needed masks. Wearing a cloth mask that has two tightly woven layers and a polypropylene filter between those layers also works well, according to scientists who published an op-ed last week in the medical journal Cell. Polypropylene sounds super science-y, but it’s what many common household things — like vacuum cleaner bags and tote bags — are made out of, and it’s easy enough to come by that you can make your own high protection mask.
Wearing two masks isn’t a perfect solution for every person in every situation. For one thing, you just don’t need to do it all the time. One mask is still fine for outdoors, and children probably don’t need to — and won’t want to — wear two masks. Double masking also makes it a little more difficult to breathe, so if you’re thinking that if two masks is good, then three masks must be better, slow your roll. Wearing three masks is too constrictive to be a feasible option. We all want to do our part to curb the spread of this disease, but you still need to breathe.