Wearing an additional face covering — or a mask with multiple layers — is recommended as extra protection against new variants of the COVID-19 virus emerging in the United States.

Dr. David Priest

Either way, more layers means additional safety, said Dr. David Priest, Novant Health’s chief safety, quality and epidemiology officer.

But, he said, the single most important thing you can do is to make sure that whatever mask you use — even if it’s just one — is that you wear it correctly. The mask must cover your nose and mouth at all times. Don’t lower your mask to hang under your chin or dangle it off your ear.

“It's not a bad idea to wear multiple layers,” Priest said. “Many masks already have multiple layers, but some don't. We’ve seen people recently wearing a surgical mask with a cloth mask over it. That's certainly not a bad idea.”

Public health experts have said that double masking may make the sense for people who are in high-risk situations or have medical conditions that put them at high risk. The new variations of COVID-19 are more contagious, which has sparked the trend of double masking.

Adding another mask layer “makes common sense that it likely would be more effective,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has these mask recommendations:

  • Wear two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric.
  • Completely cover your nose and mouth.
  • Make sure masking fits snugly against the sides of your face and doesn’t have gaps where air particles can easily enter.
  • Don’t use masks made of fabric that makes it hard to breathe, for example, vinyl.
  • Don’t use masks that have exhalation valves or vents that allow virus particles to escape.
  • Don’t use masks that are intended for healthcare workers, including N95 respirators or surgical masks. That could threaten supplies that healthcare workers need in hospitals.

The CDC also recommends that if you wear a neck gaiter, choose one that has two layers, or fold the one you have to make it two layers.

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Priest said scientific research is ongoing about the effectiveness of which masks work best, but adding additional layers and making sure they’re worn correctly is a good safety measure.

As more Americans receive the COVID-19 vaccination, it’s important for everyone to continue wearing masks, maintaining social distance of at last 6 feet apart, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated places, and washing your hands (often and thoroughly). Even after you receive both doses of the vaccine, it will be necessary to continue to mask and follow safety protocols until public health experts say we can stop.

“Over time, we'll see how the science evolves on the best type of mask and how the technology improves,” Priest said. “Hopefully, a lot of people will get vaccinated and at some point, we won't have to do this as much.”