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COVID-19 double masks or single-layer masks

To double mask or not…that is the question

In the last few weeks, you may have noticed people wearing two masks, or read headlines about double masking or upgrading your current face mask. People understandably have questions.

While COVID-19 vaccines are rolling out across Wisconsin and the United States, new, more transmissible variants also are making their way around the country, leading public health experts to recommend upgrading from a simple cloth mask. That may mean wearing double face masks or, at a minimum, wearing a high-quality, well-fitted single mask.

Regardless of what you wear, make sure it fits properly

No matter what, it’s better to wear one mask properly than two masks improperly. Remember mask-wearing 101 for how to wear a mask properly:

  1. Keep it above your nose so your nose and mouth are completely covered.

  2. Make sure it fits snugly all around your face with no gaps.

A good test of your mask’s fit is whether you feel warm air flowing past your cheeks and eyes when you breathe out. If you wear glasses and they are fogging up, that’s a sign that your mask isn’t tight enough. You can also press the sides of your mask to your face to see if it’s harder to breathe. If either of these things are true, your mask is not snug enough.

Upgrade your face mask

If you’re only wearing one mask, make it the best mask you can find. That means a mask with at least two layers of fabric and the ability to insert a filter. Carbon filter face mask inserts are now readily available at places like Target or Amazon.

If you’re using a bandana or a single-layer cloth mask, it’s definitely time to upgrade. Neck gaiters are okay as long as they are two layers, but scarves, ski masks and balaclavas are not substitutes for masks. You should also avoid all masks with exhalation valves because the valve allows your respiratory droplets to escape and possibly infect others.

N95 masks remain in short supply and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still does not recommend them for the general public. N95s are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for health care workers and other medical first responders.

Is double masking for you?

You may see medical professionals wearing cloth masks over N95s. This is to help protect the N95 masks from getting soiled so they can last longer. But what about you? If you have underlying health conditions or are indoors with others where social distancing is difficult, it makes sense to double mask.

How to double mask

You can double mask by layering a surgical-type mask under a cloth mask or by wearing two cloth masks. The extra mask acts like a filter and can also help reduce leaks. 
Grocery stores, public transportation and indoor work environments are all places you may want to double mask. But remember, even with two masks the most important thing is to wear them properly.

As always, masking is just one tool to use in the fight against the pandemic. Public health officials urge everyone to continue social distancing, avoiding large crowds and indoor spaces with people outside your household, and staying home as much as possible.