COVID-19 Diaries (Part 12): Double Masking – Is Two Better Than One?

covid double masking
Contributed by: Rachana Arya


Masks are now a fact of our day-to-day life, thanks to the COVID 19 pandemic. Wearing a mask not only decreases the risk of contracting the coronavirus but also stops infected people from emitting virus-laden particles to others. 

But how about wearing two masks at once for double protection? Is double masking a win-win strategy? 

Yes, it is! If you’re looking for the safest option, this is the one for you.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently came up with a revised masking recommendation — double masking — to slow the unprecedented spike of COVID-19 and the more contagious variants of the virus. 

In laboratory-based experiments with dummies, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put two models six feet apart to see how many aerosols were emitted from one and inhaled by the other during a simulated cough. Results from the experiment demonstrated that when the models wore only one surgical mask, they were able to block 56.1% of particles, and the cloth mask alone blocked 51.4% of particles. The combination of the cloth mask covering the surgical mask (double masking) blocked 85.4% of the cough particles.

If you’re wondering what exactly double masking means, how to do it properly, and why, here’s all you need to know.


What is double masking?

It refers to wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask in order to minimize the risk of transmission of coronavirus-carrying respiratory droplets. For “maximal protection,” a person should wear a cloth mask on top of a surgical mask, with the surgical mask serving as a filter and the cloth mask giving an additional filtering layer and enhancing the fit.


Why do you need to double mask?

The current virus is spreading at a breakneck pace, necessitating full security, which can be given by two masks. Double masking serves two purposes:

  1. It improves the fit of your mask by closing gaps around the edges and creating a more snug fit. 
  2. It creates multiple layers of protection against droplets coming in or out, thereby improving filtration.


What do you need to make a double-mask?

You just need a:

  • Surgical mask
  • A cloth mask made of multiple layers of tightly woven, breathable fabric


How should you double-mask?

  • Fold your surgical mask in half, lining up the corners
  • Tie a knot on both sides 
  • Tuck in the sides close to the face to prevent air from leaking out around the edges 
  • Mold the nose and place a loop over each ear 
  • Wear the first mask correctly first before layering a second mask.
  • Now, take your cloth mask (having at least two layers), and wear it on top of the surgical mask
  • Make sure that your cloth mask is thick enough to block sunlight


Double masks – Don’ts

  • Do not combine two surgical masks 
  • Do not combine an N95 mask with other masks 
  • Do not use a mask that doesn’t completely cover your nose and mouth
  • Do not wear bandanas, scarves, and masks with valves


Is double masking actually effective? 

The concept of double masking is backed by some scientific studies that two masks are better than one — specifically if you’re in any enclosed areas where social distancing may not be possible. According to the CDC, wearing a double mask 

  • Reduces exposure to the coronavirus by nearly 95%
  • Helps in preventing leakage of air  
  • Snugly fit the contour of your face 

Wearing two masks is a “strategic combination” for increasing protection — but it all depends on what kind of masks you’re wearing and if you’re wearing them properly to reduce exposure to aerosols that could be infectious.


Does the recommendation slow viral spread?

The term double masking may seem simply throwing on two masks on top of each other. But, there’s more to double masking than just two layers of masks. As per the CDC’s updated guidance, masks should be well-fitted, and not have any gaps between the fabric and the face. If all conditions are met, the mask’s “overall efficiency would be greater than 90%.


The Bottom Line

A year into the pandemic, the whiplash of changing guidelines can feel overwhelming—but it’s all with good reason. Considering the fact that we don’t have any new weapons to combat the new strains, the only thing we can do is to improve the weapons we already have.

It is important to wear a mask that has at least two layers of washable, breathable cloth, fully covers your nose and mouth, fits snugly against the sides of your face, and bends to match your nose at all times. Double masking, when combined with other safety protocols, such as physical distancing, and good hand hygiene is particularly important, given the emergence of more transmissible viral variants.


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