Layering your face is in – but not as a fashion statement. It may just save a life.
Public health officials are suggesting double masking as a way to increase the level of protection from the coronavirus and its multiple, more contagious variants.
“If you have a physical covering with one layer, you put another layer on, it just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective, and that’s the reason why you see people either double masking or doing a version of an N95,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, now chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie.
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have been doubling up for weeks – in fact Biden was often seen with a surgical mask under his go-to black fabric covering before being sworn into office.
On Inauguration Day, transportation secretary nominee Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, took a selfie double masking, and inaugural poet Amanda Gorman wore a surgical mask beneath her Prada version.
Republican US Sens. Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio were seen sporting double masks on Capitol Hill in mid-December.
Layer on the protection
A single-layer mask isn’t really effective in blocking aerosols, studies show, and even homemade two- and three-ply fabric masks are only partially protective – somewhere in the 50% to 60% range of effectiveness.
Surgical masks, also called medical-grade masks, are made of three layers of nonwoven fabric typically made from plastic. The colored top layer of fabric is made of medical-grade spunbond polypropylene, which is a resin polymer heat-bonded into a weblike structure.
A 2020 study found surgical masks were about 50% effective at protecting the wearer from other people’s aerosols and between 60% and 70% effective at protecting others.
But put a surgical mask under a cloth mask and you get “over 91% removal efficiency for particles,” said Joseph Allen, an associate professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the director of the school’s Healthy Buildings program, in a recent interview.
In mid-December, Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech who is a leading expert in aerosol transmission of viruses, and Dr. Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at UCSF/San Francisco General Hospital, published a commentary calling for double masking,
“For maximal protection,” Mar