Does Double-Masking Help Curb the Spread of COVID-19?

A cloth face mask and surgical face masks.

Kseniya Ovchinnikova / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • There is no data to suggest that double masking provides extra protection against COVID-19 transmission.
  • Asking people to double mask may decrease mask compliance, according to doctors.
  • The best practice is to wear a single mask and to wear it properly: over the nose, pushed down at the bridge, and around both ears.

Last week, Anthony Fauci, MD, endorsed layering two masks as a way for slowing and curbing the spread of COVID-19. Although this recommendation has gained traction online as the safest way to protect yourself from COVID-19 and its highly transmissible variants, some experts say that promoting double masking can be harmful. 

Double masking can impact comfort and wearability which in turn can decrease compliance, according to Michelle Ogunwole, MD, health disparities researcher and social epidemiologist based in Baltimore. “We had so much concern about wearing a mask and being able to breathe,” Ogunwole tells Verywell. “I think part of it is worrying that asking people to do an extra step will be even harder.” 

Currently, there is no data that supports double masking. Ogunwole recommends instead, concentrating efforts on wearing single masks correctly. “The biggest issue is that people don’t wear single masks properly all the time,” Ogunwole says. “It’s important that masks are worn over your nose, pushed down the bridge of your nose, and around both ears.” 

Paula D. Walker, MD, MPH, board-certified public health physician and microbiologist based in Atlanta, recommends double masking as long as the mask doesn't sacrifice comfort or ventilation. “As long as a person can tolerate wearing both masks, without discomfort or hampered breathing,” Walker tells Verywell. “It is not necessary to double mask with an N95 since this mask alone is sufficient in filtering 95% or more of airborne pathogens."

What This Means For You

Double masking should not be misconstrued as the only protection method against COVID-19. Wearing a mask of two layers or more, while following social distancing guidelines and washing your hands are still the best practices against COVID-19. If you want to double mask, consider wearing a surgical mask as your first layer, and a cloth mask on top.

How Should You Wear Your Mask?

If you do want to double-mask, consider wearing a properly fitted surgical mask as your first layer, with a cotton mask on top.

Surgical masks are designed to block large-particle droplets, splashes, or sprays containing germs. On the other hand, some fashion or satin masks are not thick enough and do not have multiple layers, offering lower protection. Layering the two might help offer some added protection.

Ogunwole recommends in lieu of fashion masks, wearing cotton or surgical masks with enough layers of protection and choosing one that ensures no gap between the mask and skin. “Wear a standard mask just to make sure that you’re getting enough layers of protection," Ogunwole says. "At least two layers of fabric. Three is preferred."

Because COVID-19 is transmitted mainly through respiratory droplets, the best way to protect yourself is to properly wear at least one mask, according to Shruti Gohil, MD, MPH, associate medical director for epidemiology and infection prevention at the University of California-Irvine. “Wear the mask that fits you best and wear it well,” Gohil tells Verywell. 

It’s important to make sure you wear your mask over the nose, but not beyond the nose bridge. “Because the goal here is not about the number of masks and more about the seal of the masks,” Gohil says. 

While some experts have been calling for increasing the quality of the masks we're using, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), still recommend that N95 masks be reserved for healthcare workers and medical first responders.

Beyond Masks

While masking is crucial to curbing the spread of the virus, it shouldn’t be the only precaution you take. Gohil says the places you venture out to make just as much of an impact on your level of risk.

“The way people are getting COVID-19 is taking your masks off, eating, and hanging out within six feet," Gohil says. "That’s how you get COVID-19 out there." Focusing solely on masks and not social distancing may be harmful in the long run. 

Although two masks may seem like the new safety precaution you must adopt, “as a bare minimum, I encourage everyone to wear at least one mask, continue to engage in frequent handwashing and regular disinfection of high touch surfaces, and to physically distance at least six feet to decrease the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 virus and its variants," Walker says. “The sooner we universally apply these public health measures, the sooner we can put this pandemic behind us.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

1 Source
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  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. N95 respirators, surgical masks, and face masks.

By Kayla Hui, MPH
Kayla Hui, MPH is the health and wellness ecommerce writer at Verywell Health.She earned her master's degree in public health from the Boston University School of Public Health and BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.