strategist investigates

What You Need to Know About Double-Masking

Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

To protect yourself from the Omicron COVID-19 variant, which is more than twice as contagious than the Delta variant, researchers, public-health experts, and infectious-disease doctors now suggest that we upgrade the masks we wear from fabric masks to more effective medical-grade masks like surgical masks, N95s, KN95s, and KF94s. But that doesn’t mean you have to throw away your favorite cloth masks. In certain cases, wearing a fabric mask on top of a disposable medical-grade mask is a great way to increase your protection against COVID. According to Dr. Purvi Parikh, an immunologist with NYU Langone Health who was involved in two of the COVID-vaccine trials, “The more layers you have that increase the ply or the filtration of a mask, the better because you’re blocking more particles and droplets.” She says that the Omicron variant is very contagious even in vaccinated individuals and recommends people step up their masks and consider double-masking.

With Omicron now the dominant strain of coronavirus in the United States, double-masking is a simple way for anyone to reduce their risk of infection. (Parikh also recommends increasing your social distancing in light of the new variant: “We say 6 feet as the general marker, but we’ve seen evidence that the virus can spread at 10 feet or 12 feet. It all just depends on the size of those droplets,” she says.) But you do have to make sure you do it correctly.

Both Parikh and Dr. Stacy De-Lin, a family-medicine specialist in New York City, say that wearing a double-layer fabric mask on top of a medical-grade surgical-style mask is the best combination because you’re adding layers of protection while also improving the fit of the disposable mask. “The surgical mask will fit more snugly to your face and help protect you more,” De-Lin says.

In an earlier version of this article, we included KN95 masks as an appropriate disposable mask to wear under a fabric mask. But more recently, the CDC noted that KN95s should not be paired with other masks. (In light of this new information, we have removed KN95s from this article.) Dr. De-Lin says that KN95 and N95 masks have dense netting to trap molecules, so you don’t need to add another mask to better protect you or others. In addition, “KN95 masks have a unique softer design, and you could compromise its integrity if you were to collapse it across the front with a second mask,” she says. Parikh notes that the same advice applies for similarly soft KF94 masks. By contrast, N95 masks are sturdier, so they can handle another mask on top of them without compromise.

A few Strategist-suggested mask pairings

When double-masking, be sure to put the mask with the best filtration closer to your face. These Mocacare masks are EUA-certified by the FDA, meaning that, though they are not medical-grade, they are certified for emergency medical use during the COVID-19 public-health emergency. They are made of three non-woven fabric layers with the middle made of melt-blown non-woven fabric. As a cover, we’d suggest layering them with these double-layer 100 percent cotton masks from Vida. The adjustable ear loops and hidden nose wire make them a good fit for many different face shapes.

We showed Evolvetogether’s disposable masks to Dr. De-Lin, who says they “look like they’re medical quality, given the material, so I think people could feel comfortable wearing them, and it would be protective.” We suggest pairing them with NxTStop’s bamboo mask, which has adjustable ear loops so you can change the tightness easily when you switch from wearing it alone to layering. It would also provide full coverage without feeling huge or looking dumpy.