Surgical Mask, Then Cloth? Here’s How to Wear Two Masks the Right Way, a Doctor Says
Word is out: wearing two masks is the new Fauci-recommended way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. It makes sense why two masks are better than one, said Stanford infectious disease doctor Aruna Subramanian, MD: “the more layers you have, the better protection you’re going to have against letting droplets out and also breathing droplets in.” But just as you choose your face masks with care and an eye for what’s most effective, you also want to layer your masks the right way to ensure you have the most protection.
How Do I Layer Face Masks For COVID-19?
If possible, wear a surgical mask (aka one of the disposable masks usually made of blue paper) as your first layer, then add a cloth mask on top, Dr. Subramanian said. That’s because the cloth mask will actually help hold the surgical mask in place. “Often when you just have one layer, the mask falls down below people’s noses,” she explained. Cloth masks are usually easier to tighten, so layering them over your surgical mask (not the other way around) will keep everything secure. “It’s all about keeping it your masks place and having at least two layers there that catch droplets,” Dr. Subramanian said.
N95 masks are only recommended for medical professionals, but if you do have one, Dr. Subramanian recommended wearing layering it under your surgical mask.
Equally as important as layering your face masks properly is finding a cloth face mask that’s at least two layers thick, she said. It’s the same idea: the more layers you have in the way, the more respiratory droplets (aka the primary mode of COVID-19 transmission) will be blocked from your lungs before they reach someone else – or vice versa. If your cloth face mask is not two layers, it’s even more crucial that you double-mask.
Why is all of this important? According to research in Cell, at least 90 percent of SARS-COV-2-sized particles are blocked by double-masking. Add that on top of earlier research showing that just one well-fitting cloth face mask can keep the respiratory particles in a sneeze or cough from travelling more than 2.5 inches from your face – compared to the eight feet an uncovered sneeze or cough will carry. “It’s common sense,” Dr. Subramanian said: the more layers in front of your nose and mouth, the better. Combined with other COVID-19 safety practices, like social distancing and frequent, thorough hand-washing, double-masking with a surgical and cloth mask is an effective way to keep yourself safe.
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