RALEIGH, N.C. -- Health experts have been saying for months that mask wearing is important for stopping the spread of COVID-19. But is there a benefit to wearing two masks?
It's a hot topic right now, especially since that highly contagious variant of the novel coronavirus first identified in the UK has been found in North Carolina.
So we asked an emergency physician the question about whether we should be wearing two masks.
"That's a simple question, and it's a very complex question," WakeMed's Dr. Graham Snyder said.
Double masking is a technique that's been used in hospitals since the start of the pandemic, Snyder said.
"But in the healthcare environment, we're actually doing it for a different reason than you might think," he said.
They do it to keep from having to constantly change their expensive N95 masks whenever a patient sneezes or coughs.
In that situation, they simply need to change the cloth mask worn over the N95 mask, Snyder said.
But at last week's inauguration of President Joe Biden, a lot of dignitaries who aren't healthcare workers were spotted wearing two masks.
That led a lot of people to wonder whether they should also be double-masking.
"When trying to protect yourself from the virus, what you want is less particles, less fluid on your face," Snyder said. "If you wanted to add more layers then, obviously, two masks would block more particles than one."
But he noted that doubling masks doesn't double the level of protection.
"It will decrease the transmission of the virus by a small amount. It's, it's not going to make it to zero and it's not going to be a big jump, but it would help a little bit more," Snyder said.
He is reluctant, however, to insist that people double mask, especially if those people find it harder to breathe or talk.
"What I don't want to do is make people say this is just too uncomfortable, I'm not going to wear it at all," he said.
So Snyder's advice is to double-mask but only if it's comfortable.
He said what's much more important is getting vaccinated when it's your turn because that, he said, is the only thing that can bring an end to the pandemic.