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Minnesota health officials: Better to wear 1 mask the right way than 2 the wrong way

Wearing two masks could add protection against COVID-19, but health officials stress the importance of consistency wearing one mask that fits appropriately.

The double masking trend (wearing two facemasks at the same time) could help better protect against COVID-19 and its variants, but it's more important to correctly wear one mask that fits appropriately, according to Minnesota health experts. 

"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, and that's the reason why you see people either double masking or doing a version of an N95," Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, told NBC's Savannah Guthrie, according to CNN.

But it's more important to wear a mask that fits (no gaps on the sides and covers your mouth and nose) consistently than it is to wear more than one mask, several local health officials have said this week.

Dr. Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, is a little concerned about the trend because people may not be wearing the masks correctly, which could do more harm than good. 

He appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Jan. 31, during which he stressed the importance of both face fit and face filtration when it comes to masks, comparing them to swim goggles, noting goggles leak at the fit, not at the lenses, and the same goes for face masks. 

"What we're concerned about is that many of these face cloth coverings do already have compromised fit or filtration capacity. If you add on another mask, you may actually make it tougher for the air to move through the two-cloth area, and then at that point it causes more air to actually leak around the sides, which actually enhances your ability to get infected," Osterholm said. "So I'm not saying some couldn't be used in a better way, but at the same time there are many that may actually may do more harm."

What's really important is for people to wear the mask correctly, with Osterholm noting that about 25% of people are still wearing their masks under their noses. 

"That's like fixing three of the five screen doors in your submarine – what's going on there? We've got to get people to start using these right. That would help right there tremendously," Osterholm added. 

Dr. John O'Horo, an infectious disease specialist at the Mayo Clinic, echoed a similar sentiment in a statement to Bring Me The News on Monday, stressing that consistently wearing a mask that fits correctly is what is most important. 

Here's the Mayo Clinic guide on how to wear a face mask.

"Wearing an appropriate mask with a proper fit has been effective to this point in the pandemic and will continue to be," O'Horo said. "The variants are a reminder that we must continue to adhere to these safety measures consistently.

"If a double mask is being used to cover up a gap, that’s reasonable, but getting a mask you can wear consistently that doesn’t have gaps and fits well will be easier to wear consistently in the long run," he added. "That consistency is the most important safety measure."

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) also stressed the importance of a properly fitting mask that covers the wearer's mouth and nose but said wearing a second mask could offer extra protection.

"A three-ply mask with an additional filter can provide more protection, and is especially useful for people at high risk of severe COVID-19 or anyone who wants additional protection," MDH said in a statement. "A paper coffee filter that is cut to fit under the mask can serve as extra protection. Alternatively, one can consider wearing two masks if they want extra protection."

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MDH said that even with double masking, everyone needs to still follow public health guidelines that include wearing a mask whenever you're around someone who isn't in your household, avoid crowds, keep a physical distance, wash your hands frequently, get tested if you develop symptoms or are exposed to COVID-19, and get vaccinated.

"We all have to work together to ensure that we can effectively stop transmission of the virus and variants of the virus," MDH said. 

On Monday, Feb. 1, MDH reported 727 new cases of COVID-19 and two additional deaths, bringing the total number of cases to 462,528 and 6,202 deaths. Meanwhile, more than 440,000 people have gotten their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

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