What You Need To Double-Mask Effectively


Putting on a mask is now as automatic as slipping on shoes before going outside. But it’s time to refresh your routine. With the CDC’s (and White House chief medical officer Dr. Anthony Fauci’s) latest recommendation to wear two masks or “double-mask” in order to stay safe amidst new variants of the coronavirus, procuring the right face masks feels more pertinent than ever. The winning combination seems to be a surgical mask—the 3-ply, traditionally blue masks—underneath a cloth mask. Together, they are almost as effective as the often short-supplied N95s, and offer more protection than just a cloth or surgical mask on its own.

Dharushana Muthulingam, M.D., M.S., an infectious disease physician and public health researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, tells Vogue that part of the reason for double masking is because not all masking is the same. “Studies have shown that some masks are better than others. Adding more layers to decrease transmission seems intuitive,” she says. According to Muthulingam, double-masking is the sensible approach to increased protection, “studies are starting to support this. Specifically, a group studying masks has recommended wearing a well-fitted cloth mask over a surgical mask, creating additive filtration layers as well as a snug fit.”

Just how helpful is double-masking? Muthulingam tells Vogue that “double-masking can produce 70% to 90% efficiency for preventing transmission of COVID-19. This is closer to the efficiency of N95 masks, which continue to be in very short supply. In comparison, a surgical or cloth mask by itself can produce about 50% efficiency.” The downside to double-masking is the inverse relationship between effectiveness and breathability. “Double-masking will not be feasible or comfortable for all people at all times. This may be especially the case in warmer weather.” If a warmer climate is home, Muthulingam says to think of double-masking as an additional tool, “done all the time if possible or reserved for specific high-risk exposures. During a surge or in higher-risk situations like public transportation, the double mask can provide an additional layer of protection.”

While COVID-19 vaccinations are being distributed to millions, masking is still essential for your health and the health of those around you. And, while the vaccine prevents infection, Muthulingam shared with Vogue that the verdict is still out as to how well it prevents transmission. For now, the best bet is to continue social distancing, hand washing, and to begin double masking with a surgical mask underneath and a cloth mask on top. The good news is favorite stylish cloth masks do not have to be discarded, just enhanced. As Muthulingam points out, “although each tool (masking, distancing, hand washing) is imperfect on its own, when combined, the protection can be significant.”

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