Does Wearing 2 Masks Protect You Better From COVID-19?

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Woman wearing a face mask in the pandemic
RESTOCK images /

Look around, and you may notice more people donning two masks rather than just one.

Slipping an extra mask over a primary face covering may be a tough sell for those of us who find masks a nuisance. But experts say doubling up can be a wise move.

Raina MacIntyre, a biosecurity expert at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, has investigated mask effectiveness. MacIntyre told NPR recently that two masks likely offer more protection than one.

Doubling up on masks makes most sense if your primary covering is thin or flimsy, says Linsey Marr, an expert in virus transmission at Virginia Tech. She told a New York Times writer that “if you combine multiple layers, you start achieving pretty high efficiencies” of blocking viruses.

However, there can be drawbacks to wearing an extra mask. Marr says wearing too many coverings can stifle your ability to breathe.

NPR adds that people who wear two face coverings may spend more time adjusting those coverings — which, if they unwittingly touch contaminated droplets spread by others, would then bring those viral particles to the fabric of their masks.

If you plan to wear two masks, Marr suggests wearing cloth masks over surgical masks. Cloth masks tend to hug more tightly to the face than surgical masks, while surgical masks tend to do a better job of filtering than cloth masks, the NYT reports. So, cloth masks and surgical masks make a good combination.

And although the thought of wearing two masks might be a touch depressing, Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease physician at the University of California, San Francisco, offered some encouraging words to readers of the NYT story: “Americans will not need to be wearing masks forever.”

For more on staying safe from the coronavirus, check out:

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