Woman wearing a mask hodling a second one

It May Be Time to Wear Two Face Masks

Some health experts say it’s time to wear two face masks as the COVID-19 pandemic enters a new chapter.   

The emergence of more contagious variants of the virus strain that causes COVID-19 make it even more important for everyone to cover their nose and mouth when sharing space with those from outside your household – especially if social distancing is not possible. In January, three different COVID-19 variants from the U.K., South Africa and Brazil have been found in the U.S.   

Masks mainly prevent the wearer from spreading the virus to others by trapping the respiratory droplets that they exhale. They also provide some protection to the wearer, but it depends on how well the mask fits, what it’s made of and how many layers it contains. Some health experts are now suggesting individuals wear two masks to help prevent unchecked spread of the new COVID-19 variants.  

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said wearing two face masks gives the wearer more protection than just one layer of mask. Additionally, experts say not every mask fits perfectly around the wearer’s face – which is why two masks may be able to give you extra protection. A newly released study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask offers more protection from the coronavirus. 

Official recommendations about wearing a mask have continued to change throughout the pandemic. In early 2020, the CDC did not recommend the general public wear masks – advice which changed several months later. Now, the CDC recommends the public wear masks in shared spaces, as well as following social distancing precautions and frequently washing hands. The CDC is currently considering whether it will formally recommend double masking in light of the emergence of new variant strains of COVID-19. 

Here are the CDC’s recommendations for the kind of masks the general public should wear:   

  • Non-medical, disposable  
  • Fits snugly around the nose and chin with no large gaps around the sides of the face  
  • Made of breathable fabric like cotton  
  • Made of tightly woven fabric  
  • Made with two or three layers  
  • Made with inner filter pockets  

As of Feb. 2, masks are federally mandated on most forms of transportation including airplanes, trains, intercity buses, taxis, rideshares, ships and ferries — as well as in transportation hubs like terminals. 

This content has been reviewed and approved by Dr. S. George Kipa, deputy chief medical officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

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Photo credit: SanyaSM

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