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Seeking advice: Do I seriously need to wear two masks now?

double masking
Photo via Marco Verch Professional Photographer/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The coronavirus vaccine has forced us to adapt to a new normal. One day, if people take precautions and wear their masks and get the vaccine when it’s available, perhaps the new normal will revert back to the way things used to be.

Until then, you might have questions about how you’re supposed to live your life in this new world. Hopefully, we can give you the answers.

So, as we do our best Dear Abby and/or Ask Ann Landers impression, let’s answer the query that’s most on your mind.

Q: Why is suddenly everybody talking about wearing two masks instead of one? I thought that as long as I was wearing a surgical mask or an N95, I would be protecting myself and others from being infected with COVID. But now, they want all of us to wear two masks when we’re out in public? What’s up with that? Do I really need to put on two masks before I head to the grocery store? I mean, I’ll do it if I have to, but it also, I don’t know, seems like kind of a pain. 

A: Listen, the fact you’re enthused about wearing a mask at all is great. Most people seem to have gotten the news that wearing a mask is absolutely imperative to hastening the end of the pandemic, and though there are still some people who are doing whatever they can to get out of wearing a face covering, mask-wearing has become more prevalent (and studies have backed that up). 

To determine whether double masking is a good idea, read what Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s most recognizable infectious diseases expert, had to say about it. “So if you have a physical covering with one layer, you put another layer on, it just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective,” Fauci told Today. “That’s the reason why you see people either double masking or doing a version of an N95.”

As CNBC noted, the questions around double masking began to grow during Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration on Jan. 20 when poet Amanda Gormin and Pete Buttigieg were spotted wearing cloth masks on top of surgical masks. While the CDC hasn’t officially recommended double masking, researchers believe that the two work together well because the surgical masks are more effective at stopping aerosols from spreading and because cloth masks help with the fit and keep the surgical masks pressed against the face, not leaving room for any gaps.

N95 masks, which are 95% effective, are still believed to be the most effective face coverings, and surgical masks are a good option No. 2. Double masking also would be a good idea. It’s not required that you wear one, but putting on two masks wouldn’t hurt either. 

At this point, though, two masks are the max you’d want to wear. As Nautilus wrote, “Experts caution against adding more than two masks, however. Adding a third or fourth mask is likely to hinder your efforts, as it will make it more difficult to breathe and increase the likelihood that you will remove the mask(s) while in public.”

If you missed our last Dear Abby offering, we answered a question about if you can trash your masks after you’ve been vaccinated. We think you probably already know the answer to that one. 

Josh Katzowitz

Written by Josh Katzowitz