When You Should Double-Mask and When Not?

One thing that SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has taught us, is to take our hygiene more seriously. Never in the history of the world has the human race been so hygienic. Everywhere you go now, you have to sanitize or wash your hands with soap and water. This regimen has actually worked to curb the spread of the virus. Something else that’s preventing the transmission of the coronavirus is the use of face masks. Over the months, several types of face masks have surfaced, including cloth masks, surgical masks, and KN95 masks. A new trend that you may have heard or seen recently is double masking. The big question is, should you be double masking? If so, are two masks better than one? Here’s what we know so far.

What’s Double Masking?

Double masking simply means wearing two masks instead of one. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser on COVID-19 for the U.S. president, double masking is a move that “just makes common sense” and is likely to provide more protection against the deadly coronavirus.

High-profile figures are now being spotted wearing double masks in public. This has raised interest for the general public and people all over the world.

Are Double Masks More Effective?

The short answer is yes. Other experts on the COVID-19 transmission have also endorsed Dr. Fauci’s hypothesis that wearing two masks is better than one. Even a February 10 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded that if everyone double-masked, COVID-19 exposure would reduce by 96.4 percent. This was in a combination of wearing a well-fitting mask.

The layering of the two masks is thicker, meaning it does a better job of reducing porosity and protecting you from infectious droplets. The N95 masks have been recommended as one of the most effective masks in protecting the virus and pollutants like environmental smoke because they are less porous.

We know you must be wondering whether wearing two masks will suffocate you. The answer is no. The thing is, the size of an oxygen molecule is way smaller than the pore sizes of masks. This means that you’ll still be able to get the oxygen you need and dispel carbon dioxide from your body.

The issue of wearing double masks is not just about common sense. The concept is backed by science. “Masks are made of material that traps and blocks respiratory droplets that contain virus particles”. Explains Andrea Love, an immunologist and microbiologist. One way to prevent the spread of this virus is by wearing a mask. Of course, people have to social distance, avoid indoor spaces, and limit trips to public places.

However, it’s not just any mask. The quality of the material used matters. According to Love, the more layers, the better, especially those wearing a thin cloth face cover. Even if you’re wearing surgical masks, which already contain two layers, you still stand to benefit from doubling up. One research testing the effectiveness of the different materials used to make face masks concluded that masks with three layers were the most protective. This can be two tightly woven cloth layers with a non-woven high-efficiency filter material sandwiched in between.

If your mask doesn’t have three layers, you can mimic this concept by wearing a cloth mask and a surgical mask on top.

Should I Wear Double Masks, and Why?

So, when should one wear two masks? Experts suggest that if you plan to be near people you’re not accustomed to or in a mall, double masking is highly recommended. This is especially encouraged now with the new strains of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, which are said to be more transmissible than the primary strain of SARS-CoV-2.

Sure, double masking may take some time getting used to, especially if you’ll be wearing them when working out. But, what’s a little discomfort compared to contracting or transmitting COVID-19? 

When Wearing One Mask Is Enough

You don’t necessarily need to be wearing two masks everywhere you go. If you’re cycling solo, you don’t need that much protection. The same goes if you’re just strolling alone in less crowded areas.

How to Pair Two Masks

First, you must ensure that your mask is well-fitting to prevent any chance of droplets finding their way into your nose. When pairing two masks, wearing a cloth mask over a surgical one is a proven strategy that works well. Other pairings work as well.

Another proposed strategy is to wear a shield over a cloth mask or combine two layers of 600-thread count cotton mask paired with a different material like silk, flannel, or chiffon. At the end of the day, we all need to implement any kind of measures that will protect us from the virus and curb the spread.

All images by Shutterstock

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