Is Double Masking Really Better for COVID Protection?
Now that double masking has the CDC stamp of approval, we asked an expert for the bottom line.
Double masking: it’s all the rage these days—even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says so. On February 10, the agency released new data about the effectiveness of wearing multiple layers of masks at once. What they found was impressive: Doubling up on face coverings can curb the spread of COVID-19 by up to 95%. That makes it about as effective as getting a vaccine—except, of course, it won't minimize risk of serious illness, hospitalization, or death if you do get infected, the way the vaccine does.
We wanted to get the bottom line on double masking—are the benefits really that good? Are there any downsides?—so we reached out to Purvi Parikh, M.D., a pediatric allergist and immunologist at NYU Langone Health in New York City. Here’s what she had to say.
HealthCentral: The CDC says double masking is an effective tool to combat COVID. Is it really better than a single mask?
Purvi Parikh, M.D.: Double masking is more effective because you’re creating more of a barrier against the viral particles. The more layers a mask has, the better the filtration. That’s why a lot of the medical grade masks, like N95 or surgical masks, have high filtration, because the barrier is very good. By double masking, you don’t necessarily need a medical grade mask to get the benefits. Recent studies show you can prevent transmission by up to 95%, which is huge. That’s almost as good as the current vaccines. So, I think it’s definitely an easy step we should all take to help reduce the spread of these variants.
HC: Is there a “right way” to double mask? Or a wrong way to do it?
Dr. Parikh: The best way to do it is to wear the tightest or most well-fitting mask on the inside and looser mask on the outside. If you’re going to use a medical grade mask, it’s better to wear the medical grade one closest to your face. You want the mask that protects you the most to be closest to your nose and mouth.
HC: So should people at higher risk for COVID wear even more masks? The more the merrier?
Dr. Parikh: Not necessarily. The studies show two is pretty effective and can get the job done. Again, what we’re finding is that double masking or wearing tightly fitted single masks can reduce transmission by up to 95%. So, it is clearly much better—almost the same efficacy as the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. It’s not something small; it’s quite a protection measure.
HC: For folks with asthma or COPD, could double masking hinder your ability to breathe?
Dr. Parikh: No, there’s no evidence of that. Most of us in healthcare (myself included) have been double masking this whole pandemic with a very tight N95 and surgical mask over it.
- CDC Double Masking Report: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). “Maximizing Fit for Cloth and Medical Procedure Masks to Improve Performance and Reduce SARS-CoV-2 Transmission and Exposure, 2021.” cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7007e1.htm