The debate is not, and has never been, about whether to wear a mask. The debate is how many masks. It’s easy to make the case for three masks, or a mask and a face shield (or five masks and a face shield), but I’m going to suggest that wearing two masks is the way to go for most of us in our day-to-day lives. If you’re immunocompromised or in a high-risk category, obviously research carefully what may be appropriate for you beyond double masking, but for everyone else, please respect yourself enough to wear two masks, and do it properly.

Bad mask protocol is tragic. We’ve all seen them, people with the mask down on their chin while they talk on the phone, people with the mask that doesn’t cover their nose, people with a flimsy mask that doesn’t fit right. Don’t be these people. Don’t have your nose sticking out over your mask, and don’t touch your mask every ten seconds. Be sensitive to people who may need to read lips to understand you (nobody is stopping you from double layering clear masks), but this usually doesn’t apply on the phone. A mask does not prevent you from speaking. Believe it or not, you can make sound through a mask and people can hear you. Try it. You’ll see.

The way to approach this so that you can put your mask on and then not touch it again until you’re ready to take it off is to get a quality disposable mask, such as an N95, and wear a cloth mask that can be fastened tightly over it. The key is to get a cloth mask that fastens around your head, not over your ears the way most disposable masks do. This lets you adjust it so that it’s snug and doesn’t slip when you move or talk. It holds less-stable N95s and surgical masks in place.

Besides holding your mask in place, layering with a washable cloth mask extends the life of reusable masks, so that you’re not burning through money just to stay masked up, and it provides an extra layer of protection. Wearing two masks actually does protect better than wearing just one mask. And, keep in mind that studies such as this assume proper usage of the mask in both cases, regardless of the number of layers. But, an ill-fitting N95 does not operate anywhere close to optimally; leakage around the edges from constant fidgeting and a poor fit make it less effective. A well-fitting cloth mask adds an extra layer (albeit, inferior to that of the N95), but more importantly, improves the efficacy of the underlying mask by improving the fit and stability.

As a bonus, a mask is an accessory. Your cloth masks can make political statements beyond “wear a mask” and can incorporate masking into your personal aesthetic. And on top of everything else, you can support independent artists directing their talents to the cause of overcoming the covid-19 pandemic.

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mask by NizhoniNomad: etsy

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