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Is double-masking effective? UW expert weighs in

New variants of COVID-19 are more contagious than earlier versions of the virus. Will wearing two masks make a difference?

Right now, health experts say new variants of COVID-19 are more contagious than earlier versions of the virus.

Some people are opting to wear two masks, but is that effective? 

"Everyone should wear at least one mask, and if they want to wear a second mask, they can, but they should ask themselves, are they doing it because the first mask they're wearing is low quality, or because they just feel more safe and confident wearing a second mask,” said Dr. Paul Pottinger, a professor of infectious diseases for UW Medicine. 

Double masking is in the spotlight again as President Joe Biden, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health, and other officials have been seen doubling up protection against COVID-19. 

Earlier this week, during an interview Fauci explained that masks are physical coverings that prevent respiratory droplets from spreading to other people.

"If you have a physical covering with one layer, if you put another layer on it just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective," Fauci told reporters. 

Pottinger says there's probably some value in some cases in wearing a second mask. 

”But, I would really rather someone where one mask that works very well for them,” Pottinger said. 

Pottinger adds that it may make sense to upgrade from a cloth mask if you think you may come into contact with someone who is sick. Otherwise, he says one well-fitted, multi-layered cloth mask is effective. 

”Look, the truth is that the more layers of fabric you have between yourself and the outside world and all the germs out there, and the lower the chance of something sneaking its way through,” Pottinger said. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not revised its current mask guidance. It still encourages Americans to choose well-fitting masks with two or more layers of fabric and to avoid surgical masks meant for health care workers. 

”If you choose to wear a second mask. I'm not against that. What I really need is for everyone to wear some sort of mask, if we all do that, and even with these new variants coming in, we can really help to flatten that curve,” Pottinger said.