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What You Need to Know About Double-Masking

Photo: Poet Amanda Gorman wears two masks to President Biden’s inauguration.

To protect yourself from the new coronavirus variants, which are both more contagious and potentially more deadly than the original, some researchers and public-health experts now suggest that we all 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 as many as 20 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 variants: “We say six feet as the general marker, but we’ve seen evidence that the virus can spread at ten feet or 12 feet. It all just depends on the size of those droplets,” she says.) If you’re planning on wearing two masks, 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 mask (like a surgical mask or a KN95) is best for blocking droplets. “The surgical mask will fit more snugly to your face and help protect you more,” De-Lin says, so that goes on first. In her own office, Parikh wears an N95 mask with a surgical mask or a fabric mask over it. The top layer is “to keep my N95 clean and dry,” she says. Since non-health-care workers are discouraged from buying N95 masks, that’s not an option for most of us. But there are plenty of double-mask combinations that are. Here are some we recommend.

Powecom KN95 masks are on the FDA’s list of approved emergency PPE, and they purportedly filter out 95 percent of small particles. We tested them and found that they fit snugly without any gaps on at least two different face shapes. As a cover, we’d suggest Everlane’s two-ply, 100-percent-cotton face masks. They are flexible and will mold to the more rigid Powecom KN95 mask, since the vertical middle seams line up perfectly.

We showed Evolve Together’s disposable masks to 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.

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 surgical-style disposable masks make them good at blocking COVID droplets, as long as they fit you well. We suggest pairing WeCare’s masks with Vistaprint’s masks because the adjustable ear loops mean you can be sure of a tight fit.

N95 Mask Co KN95 Face Mask
$130 for 50
$130 for 50

This particular KN95 comes specifically recommended by De-Lin. “It is NIOSH approved. The company’s business model is such that it is able to provide large amounts to medical organizations as well as provide smaller amounts to the public,” she says. Like the Powecom KN95s, this mask fits snugly with very few gaps, though it is a tiny bit bigger in size. As a top layer, Diop’s double-layer adjustable masks would mimic the shape of a KN95 and fit on top of the N95 Mask Co. mask like a glove. Plus they make it look a lot cooler.

Christy Dawn’s sustainable cotton masks also fit perfectly over a KN95 — and like Diop masks, they come in a bunch of stylish patterns to upgrade your medical mask. They are not as thick as some of the other masks we have tested, but the cotton is tightly woven. These might be a good choice for people who live in warmer climates who want to double-mask.

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What You Need to Know About Double Masking