Asian-American man wearing two face masks

Do you really need to wear two masks?

OK, now you have the mask-wearing thing down. It’s almost second nature. A small price to pay for increased personal and public safety during this COVID-19 pandemic.

But you see and hear news reports, and wonder. Do you really need to wear two masks now?

Simple answer: Probably not.

Slightly more complex answer: It really depends on how thick your mask is and how well it fits your face.

“The message is more about layering,” said Lori Grooms, director of Infection Prevention and Control for OSF HealthCare. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation for personal cloth masks is two or three layers. That’s really what you need to focus on.”

Look for multiple layers and a tight fit

In other words, if your go-to cloth mask already has multiple layers, you’re fine. Just wash regularly and replace it after you wear it out. And there’s no need to wear multiple medical masks, if those are what you’re using.

But if you have a thin, single-layer cloth mask, then double-up. Or triple-up. The multiple layers work to filter those infamous droplets that carry the virus.

And make sure your mask fits properly. It should cover the bridge of your nose, the tops of your cheeks, the sides of your face and under the chin without significant gaps.

“There are so many different shapes of faces – round, oval, rectangular, triangular, chubbier, smaller, slender. Those one-size-fits-all masks cannot really fit all faces. That’s another reason why there may be a benefit to two layers,” Lori said.

Different strain, same mask

If you’re wondering whether emerging variants of the novel coronavirus necessitate wearing thicker masks, the answer is no.

“The droplets are not smaller or harder to filter out,” Lori said. “So the same things that protect you from initial strains of the virus will protect you from variants. You just need to stay consistent with the type of mask that should be worn and the way it should be worn.”

Maintain mask vigilance

The CDC issued a federal mandate that went into effect February 1. That mandate requires facemasks be worn on all airplanes, trains, taxis, ride shares and mass transit, in addition to inside transportation hubs. It further stipulates that masks worn in those places have multiple layers and may not include exhalation valves.

Wearing a proper mask remains important, even as vaccinations against the virus become more available. Same goes for washing your hands regularly and watching your physical distance.

“Now is not the time to give up the 3Ws,” Lori said.

Last Updated: February 3, 2021

About Author: Kirk Wessler

After being a writer for OSF HealthCare for three years, Kirk Wessler retired in January 2022. A Peoria native and graduate of Bradley University, Kirk's experience included working for newspapers in Missouri, Texas and the Peoria Journal Star.

Kirk and his wife, Mary Frances, have five sons, four daughters-in-law and nine grandchildren. Kirk plans to spend his retirement on the golf course, mastering the guitar and traveling.

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Categories: COVID-19