Double masking for COVID-19: Fauci now recommends wearing two masks at once
By Amanda Capritto
The latest recommendation for slowing and stopping the spread of COVID-19: double masking. Dr. Anthony Fauci endorses double masking, the practice of wearing two face masks, because "it just makes common sense," the chief medical advisor to the president told NBC News' Today.
He's not wrong. Because layering masks reduces the porosity of your face covering, it's more likely to do a better job of protecting you from infectious respiratory droplets -- just like layering jackets protects you from the cold and just as an N95 (which is less porous) has a better shot at protecting you from environmental smoke while a cloth mask (more porous) doesn't stand a chance.
It's not just about common sense, though. The concept of double masking is backed by some scientific studies, and no, wearing two masks won't suffocate you. Here's what to know about wearing two masks to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Dr. Fauci's recommendation comes in light of new strains of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, that are thought to be more transmissible than the primary strain of SARS-CoV-2.
"With a more transmissible virus, that means every exposure has increased likelihood of leading to spread," says Andrea Love, an immunologist and microbiologist. "We must be more stringent with our behaviors now, including social distancing, minimizing trips to public places, avoiding indoor spaces and always wearing a mask."
"But, not just any mask will do," Love emphasizes. "Quality matters."
Masks work by trapping and blocking respiratory droplets that contain virus particles, Love explains. "The more physical barriers implemented, the more of these droplets you can block, thereby reducing the risk to yourself and others around you," she says. Ideally, the more layers the better, especially if you're wearing a thin cloth face cover. Even if you wear surgical masks, which generally have two thin layers already, you can still benefit from doubling up, Love says.
It's important to understand that cloth masks, like the ones worn routinely by most people, were intended to be a stopgap measure, Love says. Many cloth face covers offer little to no protection, she says, depending on the material, number of layers and fit, which is why health experts recommend layering.
In fact, three layers is really best: A recent (not yet peer-reviewed) study tested 11 mask materials and found that masks are more protective when they have three layers, two tightly woven cloth layers with a non woven, high-efficiency filter material sandwiched in between. If you don't already have a mask with three layers, you can mimic this by wearing a cloth mask and a surgical mask -- more about that is below.
When to wear two masks
If you're walking outdoors and aren't in proximity to people outside of your household, a single mask should suffice, Love says. If you plan to be near people who aren't in your household, however, even outdoors, "a simple solution is to double-mask."