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