To protect yourself from the new coronavirus variants, which are both more contagious and potentially more deadly than the original, researchers, public-health experts, and the CDC now suggest that we wear two masks simultaneously. When asked by Savannah Guthrie on NBC News’ Today if doubling up on masks does a better job of blocking these new variants, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci said it “likely does” and that “it just makes common sense that it would be more effective.” 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.”
With the U.K. variant now identified in nearly every state, 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 variants: “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 best 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 nonwoven fabric layers with the middle made of melt-blown nonwoven fabric. As a cover, we’d suggest Everlane’s two-ply, 100 percent–cotton face masks. They are flexible and the loops are soft and gentle on the ears, which is important when you’re doubling up.
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.
Dr. Ravina Kullar, an infectious-disease specialist, epidemiologist, and spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, says that though they are consumer-grade, the three layers of nonwoven polypropylene and melt-blown fabric in WeCare’s surgical-style disposable masks make them good at blocking COVID droplets, as long as they fit you well. We suggest pairing them with Vistaprint’s masks because the adjustable ear loops mean you can be sure of a tight fit.
You can also top your WeCare masks off with Christy Dawn’s sustainable cotton masks. They are made of tightly woven cotton but they are also more lightweight than many other fabric masks — so while they do add two extra layers of protection, they won’t impede your breathing. This makes them a good choice for double-maskers who live in warmer climates.
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