Public Health

Should I Wear Two Face Masks?

Spencer Lee
Spencer Lee23 Mar 2021

Quick Digest

  • Widespread mask-wearing is still among the best opportunities to slow the spread of Covid-19. From physics to epidemiology, the data that supports this claim spans several fields of research and suggests that mask-wearing is in some instances more than 79% effective at blocking transmission from infected individuals to close contacts.
  • Wearing two face masks could be a great option as an extra layer of protection to keep you safe in the midst of this pandemic. While double masking is not for everyone, it is certainly something to consider if you have thin or flimsy face coverings.
  • The more layers that cover your face, the more efficient your face coverings will be at protecting you from Covid-19. While increasing layers of face coverings may risk making it too hard to breathe, there exists plenty of breathing room before doubling up approaches become that extreme.

Should I wear two face masks? It depends on what mask you're wearing

With several new Covid-19 variants discovered in the United States, some public health experts are urging Americans to upgrade from the simple cloth masks that have become a staple throughout the pandemic. 

An upgrade can be as simple as doubling-up on cloth masks or seeking medical-grade protective masks, such as N95s. 

N95 masks are still among the best face coverings that will protect you from Covid-19. Designed with ultra-high filtration efficiency, these masks filter the majority of particulate matter you would have otherwise breathed in. 

However, the supply of N95 masks remains scarce — especially for healthcare workers who need them to treat patients safely. 

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Doubling-up on regular face coverings such as cloth masks and regular surgical masks can be just as effective as wearing an N95

Not everybody should double mask, however. If your mask is medical-grade (e.g. N95), then you should not consider doubling-up. 

Regardless, if you wear a cloth face-covering regularly, then you can get the best, simplest protection by wearing a cloth mask tightly on top of a surgical mask. 

Alternatively, you can make a three-layer mask by sandwiching filtration material, such as a vacuum filter, between two cloth masks. 

You can think of the extra protection gained through wearing additional layers of face coverings like receiving a second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. While one dose certainly affords more protection than not being immunized, two doses are best at protecting you and those around you from Covid-19. 

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Making sure your mask conforms to your face tightly is important.

For optimal protection and efficiency, your masks should fit your face relatively tightly. 

This is why wearing straps that secure the fabric around the back of your head is generally better than wearing a mask with ear loops that do not hold that mask as tightly to your face. 

Not only does this protect you from infectious particles in the air, but it also traps the particles that you breathe out, thereby protecting others.

How much longer do I have to wear a mask?

It is understandable that people are tired of wearing masks and social distancing. 

However, wearing a mask is one of the best ways we can each do our part to slow the spread of Covid-19. As more vaccinations occur, we will slowly approach herd immunity. 

However, until we reach herd immunity, we will each have to continue to do our part to protect ourselves and others — mask-wearing included. To see Mira’s estimates on when we will achieve herd immunity, see our article here


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Spencer Lee

Spencer is a Public Health & Biology undergraduate student at New York University.