As the Omicron surge continues to sweep across the U.S, almost all talk has turned to masks. Which ones should you wear, and when? Where can I find N95, KN95 and KN94 masks? Is my N95 mask counterfeit? We’ve got all the mask guides you need to stay protected during these next couple of weeks, and keep your mask supply high. Another question on our editors’ minds? When, if ever, should you be double masking?
Double masking, as in wearing two face coverings at once, one layered on top of the other, has become a topic of discussion in the medical community as the virality of COVID-19 variants has increased. If one mask is protective, two should double the effectiveness, right? We’ve consulted some experts, dug deep into research, and created a guide to double masking below. We’ve also included a few of our favorite mask picks for layering at the bottom of the post, if you plan to start double masking over the next few weeks.
Here’s your official SPY guide to double masking in the age of Omicron, and other contagious COVID-19 variants.
Is Wearing Two Masks During COVID-19 More Protective?
The CDC has listed mask layering as a protective practice during COVID-19 on their website, alongside other practices like finding the right fit and choosing one with a nose wire. They recommend using a cloth mask with multiple layers of fabric OR wearing a disposable mask underneath a cloth mask: a.k.a double masking.
Ideally, the cloth mask is fitted so it pushes the edges of the disposable mask against your face, creating a tight seal. In fact, this is one of the main benefits of double masking, with two masks on your face you’re less likely to let air droplets from your mask escape, and let others in.
Another benefit is with another layer of fabric and/or protective material, you’ve automatically got another layer of filtration. Before you inhale them, the layers of a mask filter respiratory droplets in the air. So, the more layers you’ve got, the more filtration you’re going to have.
What’s the Most Protective Way to Double Mask?
You’ll want to make sure you use the correct mask combinations when double masking, like a cloth mask and a surgical mask. There are some mask combos that don’t work together, like two surgical masks, a KN95 mask and any other type of mask, or an N95 and any other type of mask. Layering another mask on top of, or below, a mask designed for a tight fit and intense filtration may make it hard to breathe, and should be avoided.
We spoke with Kelly Carothers, Director of Government Affairs at Project N95 about double masking and the effectiveness of the practice amidst highly transmissible variants. While she shared that you should NOT double mask with a KN95 or N95 mask, she did “advise that double masking is safer than using a single cloth or surgical mask alone.”
She went onto say that “however, given Omicron’s transmissibility, a safer option would be to use a high-quality five layer mask with a snug fit, especially in high-risk indoor settings or while traveling.”
How Effective is Double Masking?
According to a CDC study published at the beginning of last year, double masking with a cloth mask fit over a surgical mask, to improve the fit, improve protection from aerosol particles spread by a cough by at least 29.3%. After a simulated cough, the double mask blocked 85.4% of particles, while a cloth mask only blocked 51.4%, and a surgical mask 56.1%.
They also conducted a breath simulation between two models of a human head, where one of them generated aerosol particles with a double mask on, and the other (the recipient) received them with or without a mask on.
When the double masked spreader exposed the unmasked recipient, the exposure was reduced by 82.2%. When the recipient was wearing a double mask and the source of the spread was not, the exposure was still reduced by 83%.
When both of them wore double masks? The spread was reduced by 96.4%.
How Effective is Double Masking Against Omicron?
While there haven’t been any long-term studies done on the effectiveness against Omicron double masking has, the higher virality and transmissibility of the variant has doctors and healthcare professionals recommending folks double mask to protect themselves, if they don’t have KN95 or N95 masks at hand.
The Best Masks for Double Masking
Like we clarified earlier, you should NOT double mask with an N95 mask or a KN95 mask. However, a surgical mask with a cloth mask is a great way to double up protection if you’re going to a crowded indoor place. Here are a few disposable face masks that are affordable, easy to buy in bulk and good for layering.
akgk 3-Ply Disposable Black Face Masks
These black surgical masks are made with non-woven material designed to filter effectively while still being easy to breathe through. They have a comfortable design with elastic ear loops that can be adjusted for a tailored fit, and they have a nose clip for a tight seal around your face.
Pozlle Store 3-Ply Disposable Face Masks
This pack of 100 disposable face masks from Pozlle comes in a bunch of fun, bright colors and elastic ear loops for eliminating pressure on your ears. They’re also made of non-woven fabric and have three layers, each with a different role for protection. The outer layer protects, middle layer stops particles and the inner layer is skin-friendly for absorbing moisture.
T-IMTEX Store Disposable Protective Face Mask
These disposable face masks are made with 67% non-woven fabric and 33% melt-blown fabric that’s designed to filter the air more effectively. All of their masks are made with hypoallergenic material for a comfortable feel for those with sensitive skin and are easy to layer underneath a cloth face, per the CDC’s guidelines.