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If you want the most COVID protection, one doctor says wearing 4 face masks is best

Published Jan 29th, 2021 1:13PM EST
Coronavirus update
Image: Al Drago - Pool via CNP/MEGA
  • Because of the implications of the latest coronavirus updates for the US in recent days, some leading public health experts like White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci have started to suggest that people consider wearing more than one face mask for better protection from COVID.
  • They defend this recommendation partly by pointing to the spread of more transmissible coronavirus variants that have now arrived in the US.
  • The experts aren’t uniform in this recommendation, though, with at least one leading COVID expert disagreeing with Dr. Fauci that more than one face mask is necessary.

The latest coronavirus update for Thursday from the COVID research team at Johns Hopkins University shows that the US has surpassed 25.8 million coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, in addition to recording more than 433,000 deaths from the virus.

Those are eye-popping numbers, but even they don’t fully explain by themselves why high-profile public health experts like White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci have been increasingly advocating what might sound like an extraordinary new COVID-related protective measure: Wearing more than one face mask at the same time.

You read that right. Public health experts from Dr. Fauci to Ashish Jha (Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health) have begun to suspect and increasingly recommend to people that one face mask might not be enough protection anymore, in certain settings. It’s partly because of the much more transmissible new COVID variants that have begun to circulate and which are now showing up in the US — and leading federal officials to consider dramatic new steps to control the virus, such as considering whether to require a negative COVID test result before anyone can board a domestic US flight, not just an international one.

Here’s Dr. Jha explaining the wisdom of doubling up and wearing two face masks:

Not convinced yet? Here are some additional expert voices who think one face mask isn’t good enough:

  • Dr. Fauci, on NBC’s Today Show this week: “It just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective. That’s the reason why you see people either double masking or doing a version of an N95.”
  • Linsey Marr, an expert in virus transmission and a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech, told AARP: “A mask is like an obstacle course for particles to get through.” Wearing more than one mask, she continued, “increases the chance that the particle will be trapped before it gets through.”
  • Some doctors have even suggested more than two face masks is advisable. “If you put three or four masks on, it’s going to filter better because it’s more layers of cloth,” Dr. Scott Segal, chair of anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, told NBC News. “But you’ll be taking it off because it’s uncomfortable.”
  • It’s not just medical experts, either, who have hopped on this bandwagon. Before reading her poem at President Biden’s inauguration, Amanda Gorman could be seen sporting two face masks:

At this point, the CDC has not yet weighed in with a recommendation on double-masking — everyone is still encouraged to wear at least one. However, one of the nation’s foremost COVID experts thinks that wearing multiple face masks might possibly do more harm than good. Dr. Michael Osterholm, who heads up the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, pushed back against Dr. Fauci’s comments along these lines, in an interview with radio station WCCO in Minneapolis on Wednesday.

“I do not support the idea of two masks,” Dr. Osterholm said. “Masks, as they’re defined, work in two ways. The first is in regards to how that masks fits. How well does it fit around you? It’s like swimming goggles. They don’t usually leak through the lenses, they leak through the seal around your eyes or face.”

If you put more masks around your face, Dr. Osterholm continued, you’ll increase the amount of air that comes in and out along the sides. “The fit becomes even less effective,” he said. “Double masking could be a detriment to your protection.”

One thing worth adding at that point is that wearing at least one face mask is absolutely, 100% crucial to protecting yourself and the health of those around you during the pandemic. And it doesn’t have to be those serious N95 masks — in fact, it probably shouldn’t be. The CDC’s new director Dr. Rochelle Walensky says those should be reserved for first responders, as they’re hard to breathe in over a long period of use.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.

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