Should you be wearing two masks? This is what the experts say

Are two masks better than one? That seems to be the consensus lately but is it as simple as that? And then why weren’t we doing that from the beginning. Here is what the experts say.

With several emerging coronavirus strains making the rounds in the US, public health officials are considering novel methods of reducing transmission rates. 

Given that many of these mutations are reportedly more contagious than initial variants, it makes sense that donning two masks while traveling is more advisable than wearing just one.

But it isn’t just about the number of masks one wears. The math isn’t that simple, because the math subsumes elements that are not directly related to the number of viral particles a mask is meant to filter out.

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has yet to release official guidance on the matter, a growing number of papers have indicated that wearing surgical masks beneath a cloth mask provides the wearer with optimal protection and comfort against infectious debris.

Believe it or not, comfort is a principal component of pandemic safety research. Uncomfortable masks increase the likelihood of one fidgeting with and or removing them sporadically.

Surgical masks, made from polypropylene, have been studied to filter out particles better than cloth masks but cloth masks facilitate a tighter seal over one’s face-in addition to supplying a wearer with some degree of defense. 

As it stands, the CDC’s official position favors masks that have at least two layers of tightly woven cotton fabric. 

“So 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,” White House advisor, Dr.Anthony Fauci explained on a recent episode of TODAY. “That’s the reason why you see people either double masking or doing a version of an N95.”

Manufacturers actually started developing three-layer-masks with built-in filters a few months back. In a series of assiduous reports from The Public Health Agency of Canada, researchers determined that three-layer face coverings offer the most protection without making the wearer feel uncomfortable. Again, the material matters.

KF94 and N-95 masks are recommended for those who frequently interact with the public. For the rest of us, a surgical mask beneath a cotton mask should do the trick.

“When it comes to use in day-to-day activities, overall surgical masks and three-layered cloth masks perform pretty well,” Dr. Sonali Advani, an assistant professor of medicine at Duke University, explained to NPR. “While these masks [such as the KF94] may be better for use in a hospital [because they’re designed for medical settings], in the real world, it may be the case that they are hard to wear through the course of the whole day. And the best mask is the one you can wear all the time.”

Having said that, reasoned analysis seems to suggest that wearing a face-covering of any kind is better than wearing none at all.

“Laboratory studies have demonstrated the ability of surgical masks to block SARS-COV-2 and other viruses. Viruses are carried in respiratory droplets and aerosols that, even when fully dried, contain far more salts and proteins than virus, so the size of concern is much larger than that of a naked virus. Surgical masks are made of melt-blown, nonwoven polypropylene, similar to N95 masks,” Medical experts, Monica Gandhi, and Linsey C. Marr wrote in a new commentary published in the journal, Cell Press.

“Researchers tested surgical masks on two manikins that were facing each other. SARS-CoV-2 virions were nebulized out the mouth of one manikin and were sampled through the mouth of the opposite manikin. The masks were 60%–70% effective at protecting others and 50% effective at protecting the wearer.”

Recent surveys have shown that more and more Americans are wearing masks when they travel outside of their home. Perhaps the only silver lining visible in the wake of COVID-19’s substantial death toll, is that prescriptive literature is beginning to receive less pushback from the general public. 

“With a COVID-19 vaccine on the horizon, most adults (70%) say they can continue adhering to social distancing guidelines for six months or more, or until a vaccine is widely available. As some states and localities impose new stay-at-home orders and place restrictions on some businesses in efforts to limit the spread of coronavirus, about four in ten adults think their state has about the right amount of restrictions on businesses and on individuals,” health analysis firm, KFF reports.