Is it time to double up on face masks to help fight COVID-19 variants?

SA health expert says instead of wearing two masks, consider wearing one mask with multiple layers

Generic image of a face mask.
Generic image of a face mask. (Pixabay)

With new variants of the coronavirus making their way across the U.S., and even some parts of Texas, there’s been some banter that claims wearing two face masks is better than one.

Some medical experts told the Washington Post this week that having the added mask and upping your protection against the virus will help lessen your risk of contracting COVID-19, or one of its variants from the United Kingdom, South Africa or Brazil.

However, the CDC hasn’t issued any official guidance on wearing two face masks instead of one, and, according to Dr. Ruth Berggren, with UT Health San Antonio, there aren’t any medical studies that prove this as of yet.

Dr. Berggren said in an interview with KSAT 12 that two face masks may not be necessary. Instead, just make sure you have two or three layers within your face mask and follow the three Ws — Wear a mask, Wait six feet apart from others, and Wash your hands.

“I don’t think double masking is the answer — it’s the 3Ws,” Dr. Berggren said. “You don’t have to have two masks to be safe. You just have to have a good mask.”

“At least a double layer of masks, not a single layer of stretchy material. Two or three layers,” Dr. Berggren added.

What kind of face mask should I be using?

With these new virus variants, you may be asking yourself just how safe the face masks you’ve been using over the last year actually are.

For starters, make sure your mask covers your nose and your mouth. If you’re wearing a mask just halfway, only covering your mouth, it offers little protection to you and those around you, according to Dr. Berggren.

“[It’s] totally ineffective. It’s like you’re not wearing a mask at all,” Dr. Berggren said.

It’s also important to keep in mind how tightly fit your mask is. If it’s loose, or has a big gap on the sides, then that could prompt you needing to wear a second mask.

“If your mask has a big gap on the side, then that’s a problem. You either need to work on how it’s fitting or use a second mask for that,” Dr. Berggren said.

The CDC has a few other tips for you to figure out which masks are the safest for you to use.

Dos:

  • Have two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric
  • Make sure to cover your nose and mouth with the mask
  • The sides of your mask should fit snugly around your face with no gaps

Don’ts:

  • Use masks that are made from fabric that is hard to breathe in, such as vinyl
  • Don’t use masks that have exhalation valves or vents, which can allow virus particles to escape
  • Are intended for health care workers, such as N95s or surgical masks

For more information on what the CDC recommends for face masks, click here.

Are the coronavirus variants in Texas?

Yes, some of the variants have already made their way into Texas, according to a recent report from The Associated Press.

As of Jan. 19, health officials reported a case of the United Kingdom’s variant, or B.1.1.7, in Dallas County. Another case was confirmed in Houston on Jan. 7.

None of the variants have proven to be more lethal. However, they are significantly more transmissible, medial experts say.

Dr. Berggren said that, although reports haven’t officially confirmed that cases of the variants have been found in San Antonio, she believes there’s a good chance they’re already here.

“We know that they’ve been found in Houston, and we believe that they’re here,” Dr. Berggren said.

Fortunately, the vaccines by Moderna and Pfizer are still believed to be effective against these new strains of COVID-19. And boosters may also be developed to help combat the vaccines’ response.

For now, health officials urge you to continue following the public health guidelines in place and to not let down our guard.

You can watch the full interview with Dr. Berggren here.

RELATED: Health expert says San Antonio ‘could be in for a world of hurt’ with COVID-19 variants


About the Author:

Cody King is a digital journalist for KSAT 12. She previously worked for WICS/WRSP 20 in Springfield, Illinois.