Should You Wear Two Masks? Here's What Illinois' and Chicago's Top Docs Say

There's been plenty of discussion lately on whether or not wearing two masks at one time provides greater protection for people during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly as new and more contagious variants of the virus begin to surface in the U.S.

If one mask is better than none, is two actually better than one?

According to the top public health officials in both Chicago and Illinois, the answer is maybe.

Both were asked in recent days what their thoughts were on the subject.

"I've certainly been following the information on that. The most important thing always, is if people are taking COVID seriously their risk is really quite low," Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Monday. "Where we see people get into trouble is where they think they don't need the mask, they can get in big gatherings, they can put aside the things that we know work. There has been some thought about the second masking because of, you know, variants coming and some of that. If people feel more secure wearing a second mask, they can. I am wearing a single mask at this point. If there is guidance that comes out that's based on some studies and some evidence that the CDC recommends we would make that updated recommendation, but at this point, we know that where people wear masks, they do the distancing, they wash their hands, they don't gather - all the things that we've started to take for granted - the risk of COVID spread is actually very low."

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike agreed.

"There are things that don't change as we're learning more about the variant and so those important things are the things that are going to make the difference- you know, continuing to be masked," Ezike said Friday. "It's not inappropriate to say, 'If I can breathe comfortably with one and I can do that with two, maybe two will give us that extra level of protection.' That, you know, large gatherings unmasked, indoor is obviously more risky than outdoors - like all of those things we've been saying that the message doesn't really change. It just means it's more important now, more important than even before, to adhere to them. So we'll continue to follow the science."

Dr. Anthony Fauci told NBC News' TODAY on Monday that wearing two masks "likely" makes a difference.

"So if you have a physical covering with one layer, you put another layer on, it just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective," Fauci told TODAY. "That's the reason why you see people either double masking or doing a version of an N95."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not yet recommended double masking.

The topic first garnered attention when several people were seen "double masking" at President Joe Biden's inauguration. Some on social media noted that attendees, including poet Amanda Gorman and Pete Buttigieg were wearing surgical masks underneath cloth masks. Even Biden himself has been seen wearing two masks at once.

"Wearing two masks helps improve the filtration ability of the mask in both directions, so it helps protect you better and it helps protect others," Lindsay Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech, said on TODAY in late January.

The CDC does note that masks with "two or three fabric layers" are more effective.

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