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Wearing two masks will provide more protection against COVID-19, Boise doctor says

A surgical mask provides about 80% protection, but a surgical mask covered with a fabric mask provides roughly 90% protection, according to Dr. Laura McGeorge.

BOISE, Idaho — Since the beginning of the pandemic, health experts have said hand washing, maintaining physical distance and wearing a mask is the best way to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Nearly one year later, some health experts suggest wearing two masks may be more effective than wearing only one.

“Just to give you some flavor, a regular double layer fabric mask probably protects about 70% of the time or protects against 70% of the virus,” said Dr. Laura McGeorge, the system service line medical director for primary and specialty care at St. Luke's. 

The suggestion to double up comes as a new strain of COVID-19 is making its way throughout the United States. Medical experts believe this new strain is likely more contagious.

“Any double layer mask is far better than no mask at all,” McGeorge said. 

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An average surgical mask provides roughly 80% protection from the virus, according to McGeorge. A surgical mask worn underneath a fabric mask, however, will provide roughly 90% protection.

"This provides additional protection against the virus and that additional mask actually helps your first mask fit more snuggly,” she said. “One of the other things you could do, there are some fabric masks that have a place to put a filter and in that spot, you can cut a piece of vacuum filter and that can also be highly effective.” 

While no single level of protection will offer 100% infection prevention, using multiple methods of defense improves success.

“Think of a slice of swiss cheese. If you were to be able to put that slice of swiss cheese in front of your face to block the virus, there are going to be holes in that where the virus could get through," McGeorge explained. "If you take a separate slice of swiss cheese and put it in front, it is likely that you're not going to have any holes that line up and that's when you have additional protection in blocking the virus." 

While some suggest wearing N-95 masks, McGeorge recommends leaving those for health care workers and first responders who really need them. 

Experts also say wearing a single lower grade medical face-covering like a KF-94 or a double layered cloth covering with a high thread count will provide a basic level of protection if there's a secure fit. Some publications describe KF-94 masks as a mix between an N-95 mask and a cloth mask.

Whether you wear one mask or two, St. Luke's urges Idahoans to remember the "three Ws": Wear a mask (even if it's only one); Watch your distance; and Wash your hands.

As of Jan. 25, the new strain had not been detected in Idaho, but the Idaho Dept. of Health and Welfare believes it is already here. This comes after the strain has been found in Idaho's neighboring states.

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