Should You Wear Two Masks to Protect against COVID-19?

Woman wearing a masking looking at camera

Any mask is better than no mask. A single tightly fitted medical procedure mask can protect you if it’s worn properly. Adding a cloth mask can help you achieve a good fit.

Wearing a cloth mask on top of a medical procedure mask, or donning a tightly fitted procedure mask, may dramatically reduce the spread of COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This new advice builds on the importance of wearing any mask to fight the spread of COVID-19. The new guidelines are meant to help the general public stay safe outside a medical setting. Healthcare workers have different guidelines for masking.

Tania Bubb, Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Director of Infection Control, answers questions about the new findings.

Do I need to wear two masks?

According to the CDC, wearing a cloth mask layered over a medical procedure mask, or wearing one tightly fitted medical procedure mask, may reduce the spread of COVID-19 by up to 96.5% — if two people are masked this way. A single mask can be very effective if it fits well. A loose mask leaves room for tiny virus particles to slip through to uncovered parts of the face.

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Will wearing two masks protect me against the new variants?

Double-masking or a properly fitting single mask offers protection against any strain of the virus, including new variants. That’s because the physical properties of the virus are the same no matter the variant.

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How should my mask fit?

The CDC recommends people (other than healthcare workers) can secure a tighter fit by wearing a cloth mask on top of a medical procedure mask. You can also secure a tighter fit with a single medical mask.

To tighten the procedure mask, twist or tie the mask’s ear loops closest to the mask so the mask sits snugly on your face. Tuck in and flatten loose corners and extra material of the mask so it sits against your face. Also, pinch the nose bridge for a tighter seal across the nose, and pull the bottom of the mask down to fully cover your chin. The goal is to cover as much of your face as possible.

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Should I wear an N95 mask?

The CDC does not currently advise wearing an N95 mask for additional protection. There is no evidence suggesting that if everyone wore an N95 mask we would be better protected. Plus, wearing an N95 mask when not medically necessary could create supply shortages. Wearing a properly fitted medical procedure mask offers adequate protection for the way the virus is spread.

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If I’ve been vaccinated, why do I still need to wear a mask?

The COVID-19 vaccine protects you from getting sick. However, scientists are still researching whether it’s possible for you to carry and transmit the virus to another person after you have been vaccinated.

In addition, it takes more than a week for the vaccine to start working in your body. There is evidence that the vaccines we have protect against new variants of COVID-19, but we need more studies. 

Here’s the bottom line: Any mask is better than no mask. A single tightly fitted medical procedure mask can protect you if it’s worn properly. Adding a cloth mask can help you achieve a good fit. Finally, you need to continue taking other precautions like washing your hands and keeping at least six feet apart from people who don’t live in your household. And when it’s your turn, get vaccinated.

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February 12, 2021

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