Stop worrying about how thick the mask is, pick a good comfortable one!
NBC News (Jan 28) reports: "No matter what type of mask is used, the most important thing is to wear it correctly."
"I worry more about people wearing masks down on their chins, not covering their mouths and noses, than I do about what the mask is made of," said Dr. Richard Besser, president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a former acting director of the CDC.
Indeed, "the best quality mask is frankly the one that you wear the right way for the longest amount of time when you're interacting with other people," said Cameron Wolfe, an infectious diseases expert and an associate professor of medicine at the Duke University School of Medicine.
"You could have a very good N95 mask, but let's say that somebody isn't wearing it properly or is only wearing it 50 percent of the time," "I would rather that someone wear a surgical mask or cloth mask 100 percent of the time, correctly and consistently." Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and former health commissioner for Baltimore.
In everyday settings, the main objective of a mask is to cover your nose and mouth. It should block droplets coming out of your nose and mouth. For that reason, one layer already does a lot of the work. More layers will be better of course, but one is already very good. Tests have shown that even one layer of cloth blocks 50- 97% of emissions from the nose and mouth. (1)
There is some protection in covering your nose. The nose is where most viruses enter your body since you breathe in air through your nose every couple of seconds. Most masks leave gaps around the nose. If you are worried about protection, this is not ideal. If you can cover the gaps around your nose, all the better (The Smit Mask does this beautifully). Also, noses are where viruses tend to hang out, so if your nose is not covered, you can easily spread viruses unconsciously to others.
The main point of wearing a mask in everyday low-risk settings is that everybody must wear one when many people are together in proximity to protect one another. It matters less what kind of mask a person is wearing, as long as his/her nose and mouth is covered to block any emissions. Even one layer blocks 50-97% of emissions (1). Wearing a thicker mask may help you block a few more droplets, but any mask is already much better than none. Your best protection is making sure that everybody around you has his/her mouth and nose covered with at least 1 layer of cloth.
If you have trouble breathing, pick a breathable mask that you are most comfortable with and make sure everybody around you does the same!
What about the new variants?
Dr. Marybeth Sexton, an assistant professor of infectious diseases at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, says this to NBC News: The new variants "may lead people who have them to have a higher amount of virus in their nose, in their mouth, so that when they breathe or talk or cough or sing, they may put more viral particles out in the environment than the average person, but that should not be a huge problem if everybody has a mask on."
So don't worry too much about how thick the mask is, or how many filters there are. Thicker is incrementally better, but most of the work is accomplished with 2 layers of cotton. Pick a very comfortable mask and make sure you keep it on.
Note: Medical settings or other more specific settings might have their own requirements
(1) Experiment at New Mexico State University: even 1 layer of cloth blocks 97% of emitted droplets (American Institute of Physics, Dec 22, 2020)