Coronavirus and ‘double-masking’: Are two face coverings better than one?

Coronavirus and ‘double-masking’: Are two face coverings better than one?

When it comes to protecting against the novel coronavirus, are two face masks better than one? 

While face masks have proven to tamp down on droplet spread, including harmful, virus-laden particles, questions remain if doubling up on masks could boost protection, with several experts chiming into the debate. 

Those who spoke to Fox News said there’s little to no evidence to sway the issue in either direction, though some may disagree.

“There are no data to support (or refute) the idea that wearing two face masks would provide more protection” against coronavirus, Dr. Dean Winslow, infectious disease expert at Stanford Health Care, wrote in an email. 

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Dr. Aditya Shah, an infectious disease expert at Mayo Clinic, also said there was lacking evidence on the issue.

Likewise, Neysa Ernst from Johns Hopkins University, where she serves as nurse manager of the Biocontainment Unit, agreed, though she proposed that anecdotal evidence suggests additional layers could offer “psychological safety” to some, she said. 

“In this pandemic psychological safety is important, it provides a sense of control in an unknown environment,” Ernst wrote.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), masks should have two layers of breathable fabric, with a snug fit covering the nose and mouth.’

Experts' responses on 'double-masking' varies, which suggests further research is needed. (iStock)

Experts’ responses on ‘double-masking’ varies, which suggests further research is needed. (iStock)

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“If your mask already has multiple layers, it’s not necessary to double mask,” says Dr. Frank Esper, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s. “While doubling the mask probably doesn’t double the protection, it probably won’t hurt you either.”

That said, one expert in California said doubling up on masks can improve protection.

When worn correctly, a single face mask made of “appropriate material” typically offers enough protection, Paula Cannon, a distinguished professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Keck School of Medicine of University of Southern California (USC), said in an email. 

“However, wearing two can provide additional protection. A second mask can create a tighter seal around your face, and also help secure the masks so they don’t slip down,” she added. 

Two masks can create more of an “obstacle course” for viral particles in an attempted route from the air, through the body and into the lungs, argued physician and medical editor Dr. Dave Hnida, according to CBS

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“It has been backed up by research that two masks are, in fact, better than one,” Hnida said, per the outlet. “Specifically what we’re saying is that two masks may actually equal the protection you would get from N-95 masks, which is considered the best mask there is short of a complete respirator-type unit.”

He said a surgical mask swathed with a cloth mask could boost protection.

“The reason for that is you do wind up getting more filtration of viral particles. It becomes more of an obstacle course for the viral particle to make its way from the air into your nose and throat and then into your lungs,” he said. 

However, experts do agree that too many layers could pose a risk of breathing difficulties, and the CDC specifically recommends against wearing masks with vinyl fabric for that reason. Aside from mask use, health experts continue to urge proper physical distancing, hand hygiene and avoiding crowds to reduce virus spread.

Fox News’ Madeline Farber contributed to this report.

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