World leaders, celebrities and your neighbors are doubling up on their face masks to strengthen their protection against new COVID-19 variants. So, do you need to wear two face masks when you go out in public? What kind of mask is best?
Here are answers to commonly asked questions on face masks.
Are two masks better than one to protect against COVID-19?
Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that people can increase their protection in the community by improving the fit of their homemade mask or by wearing a homemade mask on top of a disposable mask to ensure a snug fit to the face.
Doing so decreases exposure to potentially infectious respiratory droplets by about 95% when both an infected individual and an uninfected individual take such measures, the research shows.
If you’re able to breathe well, there’s nothing wrong with wearing two face masks at once or a face mask together with a cloth face covering when you leave your house and are out in the community, says Roy Chemaly, M.D., MD Anderson's chief infection control officer.
“The CDC recently reiterated the importance of wearing a mask with two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric,” Chemaly says. “High-quality, medical-grade face masks that are rated to ASTM international standards are designed to achieve the necessary level of filtration. Homemade masks may require two or more layers to achieve a similar level of protection.”
A good test? Put on your mask and try to blow out a lit candle. If you can do it easily, you may need another mask layer.
Are all medical-grade face masks the same?
No. There are three filtration levels for standard medical-grade face masks.
ASTM Level 1 masks (often sold in retail stores) are designed to be worn for medical procedures with low amounts of blood, fluid or spray. ASTM Level 2 masks provide moderate barrier protection for low-to-moderate levels of sprays and fluids. ASTM Level 3 masks – the kind everyone receives upon entry to MD Anderson – offer maximum barrier protection for clinical activities involving heavy levels of spray and/or fluids. That is why double masking isn’t necessary when you’re wearing MD Anderson ASTM Level 3 face masks.
Within the realm of ASTM Level 3 masks, there are several brands that have slightly different features such as the style of the nose bridge and the color of the face mask. This doesn’t reflect a lesser quality of mask.
What can I do to stay safe from COVID-19?
When it comes to protection from COVID-19, vaccination and universal precautions go hand-in-hand, Chemaly says.
“After COVID-19 vaccination, it’s important to continue wearing a mask, practicing social distancing and limiting contact with non-household members,” he says. “The current COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective in protecting the vaccinated individual from infection, but it is not guaranteed nor is it known whether the vaccinated person remains susceptible to asymptomatic infection if exposed to the virus and, therefore, potentially contagious to others.”