What is double-masking?
Double-masking is the method of wearing an additional mask on top of another to lower your risk of contracting COVID-19. In January 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted various studies on improving mask performance and reducing COVID-19 transmission. It was concluded that ‘double-masking’ and knotting the ear loops of a 3-ply mask and adjusting it to fit snuggly to the face can provide greater protection for the mask-wearer and the people around them.
How can double-masking help?
A mask that is closely fitted to the face can better protect the wearer from COVID-19 as it is less likely for droplets carrying the virus to enter. In the same way, wearing two layers of masks can provide an extra layer of barrier or protection against the virus.
Similar to knotting the ear loops of a 3-ply mask and a tight-fitting mask such as the N95 mask, double-masking creates a better fit to the face and keeps your respiratory droplets in and other people’s out.
How to correctly double-mask?
The method of double-masking is simple. Double-masking can be done by layering two different types of masks on top of each other. However, it is very important to use the correct combination of masks. The CDC recommends layering a cloth mask over a surgical mask or disposable mask. The second mask should be pushing the first mask closely to the face and forming a seal.
An important aspect of double-masking is making sure that the masks fit snugly against the sides of the face and have no gaps. One way to check for gaps is by cupping the edges of the masks and breathing to make sure that no air is flowing from these areas. The particular areas to look out for are near the eyes and sides of the masks.
While this may make breathing slightly more difficult, a good fit is comparable to an N95 mask. As N95 masks are in high demand by medical professionals, not only is this the more economical option, it is also the most sensible one.
What not to do when double-masking?
Other than advising on the correct way of double-masking, the CDC also advised against these mask combinations:
- Two surgical masks
- Two cloth masks
- A KN95 mask with another type of mask
- An N95 respirator/mask with another type of mask
According to the FDA, an N95 respirator is very effective in filtering out airborne particles (95%). Given its inherent good fit, it does not require an extra layer of a mask to effectively protect you from COVID-19.
When wearing two masks, it is also important to ensure that your vision is not compromised by the second mask. If this is an issue, you may adopt the alternative option of knotting the ear loop of a 3-ply mask.
‘Knot and Tuck’ Method
Firstly, make sure your hands are clean before creating a knotted mask.
- Fold the mask in half so the top part of the mask meets the bottom.
- Once folded, tie a knot on each loop of the mask and ensure the knots are as close to the edge of the mask as possible.
- Tuck in the excess material inwards on both sides of the mask
- Gently hold the mask and wear it as normal while ensuring the nose wire fits snugly.
- Once worn, make sure that there are no gaps around the eyes and cheek by checking for untucked pleats and flattening excess materials
Other methods of protection against COVID-19
Double-masking isn’t always necessary. The level of protection we require daily can vary. A single cloth mask or surgical mask can provide ample protection if a person is outdoors and able to maintain a two metres distance from other people at all times.
However; if you are required to travel and find yourself in situations where you are in close contact with other people, double-masking may be the best option for you.
On top of that, continue to maintain a two-meter distance from others, avoid crowded and poorly ventilated areas and always remember to sanitise or even better, wash your hands for 20 seconds. If you are able-bodied and have the opportunity to get vaccinated, do complete it as soon as possible. Not only will this protect you against COVID-19 but it will also protect others that may not be able to get the vaccine themselves.
- Brooks, J. T. et al. (2021) “Maximizing fit for cloth and medical procedure masks to improve performance and reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission and exposure, 2021,” MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report, 70(7), pp. 254–257.
- CDC (2021) Improve the fit and filtration of your mask to reduce the spread of COVID-19, Cdc.gov. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/mask-fit-and-filtration.html (Accessed: May 25, 2021)
- Center for Devices and Radiological Health (2021) N95 respirators, surgical masks, and face masks, Fda.gov. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/personal-protective-equipment-infection-control/n95-respirators-surgical-masks-and-face-masks (Accessed: May 25, 2021).
- Wu, K. J. (2021) “One mask is good. Would two be better?,” The New York Times, 12 January. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/12/health/coronavirus-masks-transmission.html (Accessed: May 25, 2021).