Face masks have become regular accessories. Experts have learned a lot over the past year about the effectiveness of different types of face coverings. For example, they found wearing one not only protects the people around us from our germs, but it can also afford us protection from the germs of others. Still, given the seriousness of the pandemic, we all want to do better here we can. In the absence of N95 respirators, adopting this practice might offer more protection than a cloth mask alone.
The latest recommendations out of the CDC include a section on double-masking, or layering, masks to increase protection. The CDC also recommends that we wear masks that contain multiple layers of tightly-woven fabric, so it does stand to reason that wearing two different types of masks might improve their benefits. Dr. Fauci also says "it makes common sense," so many are down to try it until the studies catch up and let us know for sure.
According to a recent Boston Globe report, a growing number of people have opted to switch up their mask-wearing routines by wearing surgical masks beneath their regular cloth ones. Numerous Washington officials are doing it, and their reasoning is solid: The combination improves overall mask fit and provides additional layers of material for a more effective barrier. It's all about saving lives—our own, and others'.
Studies do exist on other variations and we can look to these for initial guidance. The American Chemical Society took a look at different fabrics and combinations, finding masks made using cotton layered with chiffon, silk or flannel could offer protection comparable to that of N95 respirators.
This combination is so effective because it creates two different types of protection much like the double-layering technique noted above. Cotton, and tightly woven fabrics like it, create physical barriers that catch microscopic particles the same way nets catch fish. Because coronaviruses are small enough to slip through even fine weaves, a second material that can hold static charges (enter the chiffon) may work as an electrostatic barrier.
For those opting to go this route, researchers recommend one layer of cotton to two layers of chiffon and stress that the combination is only most effective when the mask fits snugly to the face, with even the smallest gap reducing its effectiveness by as much as half.
That plain cotton mask is better than nothing, but there are better options and layers or even two masks seem to be better than one. But one fact still remains: Any mask is better than none at all.
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