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Is Wearing Two Masks Better Than Wearing One?

Dr Malaika Stoll, senior medical director at Blue Shield of California, shares her thoughts

As double-masking has been in the news recently, employees and employers may be wondering if it makes sense for them, especially given the appearance of more highly transmissible strains of COVID-19 in the U.S.

Two masks may do a better job of blocking any droplets and spray containing viral particles from entering your airways through unobstructed entry points, such as a gap on the side of your mask.

malaika stoll headshot 2sq
Dr. Malaika Stoll

Layers and fit are key – whether it’s one mask or two

Given that a layered mask has been proven to reduce the spread of COVID, two masks may provide additional protection. The most important message for employers and their employees is to wear a mask correctly and consistently.

The mask has to fit snugly, fully covering nose and mouth and strike the right balance between comfortable yet snug, with no gaps. The first layer can be a surgical mask, with an adjustable nose bridge, to create that snug fit. The second layer can be a cloth mask made of tightly woven fabric, but ideally one that ties in the back because they’re better at closing gaps than masks with ear loops. It’s advised to discard the surgical mask after a single use and wash the cloth mask after each use.

Another option for employees and employers to consider is using a snug-fitting cloth mask that’s also made of tightly woven fabric with a pocket for inserting a filter as an additional layer of protection.

The goal is to create obstacles to prohibit virus particles in the air from having an easy path into your airways.

Are three masks better than two?

Not necessarily, because a third mask can make it much harder to breathe normally, which can be dangerous.

People frequently find themselves adjusting the masks or pulling them aside for short intervals so they can breathe more easily. Vulnerability to virus transmission increases in those periods when your airways – or a colleague’s nearby – are left unprotected.

Continue social distancing

While it is logical that double-masking provides more protection, it does not eliminate the need to continue social distancing and practice good hygiene.

Just as two masks are better than one, a workforce that adheres to multiple measures for self-protection also safeguards those around them.