By Noah Wortham
Masking has grown to be increasingly common during the pandemic and there are different ways in which people try to protect themselves from COVID-19. Some of the common types of protection used are cloth masks, surgical masks, face shields or neck gaiters. Regardless of which you choose, the purpose is to protect both yourself and others from infectious droplets.
Although a single face covering itself is generally good for protection, some people have taken to double masking for increased protection. Double masking is now one of several techniques that are now supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after some research.
According to Medical Epidemiologist John T. Brooks of the CDC, in January, the CDC specifically tested the benefits of “wearing a cloth mask over a medical procedure mask (double masking)” and a second method involving “knotting the ear loops of a medical procedure mask… and then tucking in and flattening the extra material close to the face.”
Afterward, they found that the “receiver’s exposure was maximally reduced (>95%) when the source and receiver were fitted with modified medical procedure masks.” For them, the success of the experiments points toward the “importance of good fit to optimize mask performance.”
They also conducted studies involving “mask fitters to improve the fit of cloth and medical procedure masks.” These fitters “can be solid… or elastic… and are worn over the mask, secured with head ties or ear loops.” Their “results indicated that when fitters are secured over… they can potentially increase the wearer’s protection by ≥ 90” percent.
It is important to note however, that these findings “are subject to at least four limitations.” They were done with “one type of medical procedure mask and one type of cloth mask among the many choices that are commercially available.”
They did not “include any other combinations of masks.” The “findings” may not be “generalizable to children because of their smaller size or men with beards … which interfere with fit.”
Lastly, although these options have advantages, it is important to remember that “double masking might impede breathing or obstruct peripheral vision” and “knotting and tucking can change the shape of the mask such that it no longer covers fully.”
Ultimately, the thing to consider is your own personal limitations and make sure that the mask is “well fitted to the contours of the face to prevent leakage around the masks’ edge.”
Also remember that masking is an additional protection alongside “other protective measures, such as physical distancing, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces and good hand hygiene.” Such protections are considered necessary “until vaccine-induced population immunity is achieved.”