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Health experts debate efficacy of 'double masking' to fight COVID variants

"Every layer that we add to a mask, it’s like adding an obstacle course that the particles have to get through," said Professor Linsey Marr.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Double masking is exactly what it sounds like, wearing multiple masks at the same time.

Linsey Marr is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech who studies viruses in the air. She’s also a Sacramento native and she knows why doubling up is are more important now than ever before.

“I think we’re hearing about double masking now because of the new [coronavirus] variants which are more transmissible than the original version,” Marr said. “With every layer that we add to a mask, it’s like adding an obstacle course that the particles have to get through.”

Dr. William Schaffner, professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, admitted more study is needed on double masking, and there’s more to be considered.

“I don’t believe double masking has been carefully studied,” Dr. Schaffner said. “And actually my emphasis is on getting people to wear a single mask and to wear it appropriately, over the nose.”

Still, he believes the concept of wearing two masks makes perfect sense.

“Could double masking give you an extra layer of protection? I think that’s possible. So if you’re really into safety. Yes, I’d consider that,” Dr. Schaffner said.

Marr explained how adding layers works.

“If you have a layer that’s maybe 50% effective at blocking particles, like it blocks half of them, If you layer two of those on top of each other, now you block 75% of them. And if you add another layer, you’re blocking almost 90% of the particles that get through.”

Professor Paula Cannon at the Keck School of Medicine at USC put wearing two masks into perspective.

“If you have an attractive cotton mask, that’s great. But maybe if you’re going to be in an indoor situation, where you’re going to be more at risk of the virus, then I would combine the two and get something that’s going to stay and give you more protection,” she said.

Cannon said comfort is paramount.

“I think now with these new variants, especially the ones in California that we think may have contributed to the recent surge, I would just encourage everyone to up their mask game," Cannon said. "Have something that’s good quality and there’s absolutely no harm in doubling up. But make sure it’s a fit, it’s going to stay on your face and you’re comfortable with it. That’s the most important thing.”

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Read more from ABC10

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