Speed Reads

Coronavirus news you can use

How to improve your mask game amid the new COVID-19 strains

"The discovery of highly transmissible coronavirus variants in the United States has public health experts urging Americans to upgrade the simple cloth masks that have become a staple shield during the pandemic," The Washington Post reports. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, suggested on Monday's NBC Today that people consider wearing two masks at the same time, explaining, "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."

Experts suggest wearing a surgical mask underneath a cloth mask, assuming you don't have access to N95 or KN95 masks, which afford the most protection. Linsey Marr, an engineering professor at Virginia Tech and mask effectiveness researcher, told the Post that if you don't have access to surgical masks, you can create a protective three-layer mask by sandwiching a high-efficiency filter — like one cut from a vacuum bag — between two tightly woven fabric masks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises Americans to wear a tight-fitting masks with "two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric," and to leave surgical masks and N95 respirators for health care workers. Fauci appeared alongside new CDC Director Rochelle Walensky at a CNN town hall on Wednesday and advised people to follow the CDC guidelines. Walensky said N95s are uncomfortable and might turn people off of wearing masks entirely.

Many other countries have responded to the contagious new variants by mandating that people wear medical-grade masks in public — Europe's solution — or by mass-producing high-quality masks and shipping them directly to residents, as South Korea, Singapore, and other Asian nations have done, the Post reports. Some medical experts — and The Week's Ryan Cooper — say the Biden administration should consider following Asia's lead.

All available evidence "suggests two masks are likely more effective than a single mask," and "in situations where you are not able to social distance, you may want to double up by wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask or two cloth masks," Jamie Ueda writes at Reviewed. But "if you already have trouble breathing while wearing one mask, adding another may not be the best option. The CDC notes wearing one mask is better than not wearing any face covering."