The COVID Double Mask Phenomenon – advice from the Washington Post

The Washington Post just posted an article about the new phenomenon of people wearing two masks at once. Read below:

“I’m getting confused about masks; I see some places say you should ‘double up,’ others where you should wear medical grade, but it looks like most people on the news (including at the inauguration) were wearing cloth masks like I am. Is there a mask standard?” — Jennifer in Colorado

Today’s answer comes from Allyson Chiu, The Post’s wellness reporter, who smartly noticed that many readers (and even some of her colleagues) were asking about the rising double mask phenomenon.

In recent months, a growing number of public figures including football coaches and politicians have been spotted wearing two masks — usually a cloth covering over a medical-grade mask. “If you have a physical covering with one layer, you put another layer on, it just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective,” said Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, during a January appearance on NBC’s “Today” show.

But not everyone needs to wear two masks all the time.

Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine and an infectious-disease expert at the University of California at San Francisco, suggests doubling up on face coverings if you are spending time indoors in crowded spaces or in areas where transmission rates are high. People who are medically vulnerable should also consider layering their masks, she says.

“We do actually have to tailor our recommendations,” Gandhi says. Otherwise, “it will just cut down on acceptability,” she says.

The purpose of wearing two masks is to improve fit and filtration, Gandhi says. And if the masks are layered properly, they can closely simulate the effectiveness of an N95 respirator, which many experts consider to be the gold standard.

Option 1: Wear a tightly fitted, multiple-layer cloth covering over a surgical mask. “The non-woven polypropylene material of the surgical mask is electrostatically repulsing the virus and then the cloth mask literally forms a physical barrier with fibers going every which way,” Gandhi says.

Gandhi says she does not recommend putting a cloth mask over an N95. “An N95 is as good as it gets,” she says.

Option 2: Wear a three-layer mask with tightly woven fabric outer layers sandwiching a middle layer made out of a “nonwoven high-efficiency filter material,” such as a vacuum bag filter, the article states. The filter material will act similarly to a surgical mask or other medical-grade covering, Gandhi says.

Read more: Single or double? The latest advice on masks and covid. from the Washington Post.

Ms. Jenn Landers | Patient Advocate Alliance LLC
Edited by Dr. Justin Groode