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Face masks have been in the news a lot lately. First, Germany began requiring people to wear N95 or similar to visit shops and to take public transportation. This was soon followed by mandates from Lufthansa as well as the national airlines of Switzerland, Austria and Belgium requiring passengers to wear medical-grade masks and banning regular cloth masks.
According to CNN, “N95 masks are considered the gold standard in personal protective equipment because they block 95% of large and small particles utilizing a unique electrostatic filter.” In fact, Harvard Medical School physician Dr. Abraar Karan, who is quoted in the article, says that widespread use of N95 masks could end the pandemic.
Here in the United States, there are no mandates for civilians to wear N95 or other medical-grade masks yet. But I think there’s a good chance that similar requirements will be coming here soon. But in the meantime, there’s the option of double-masking.
I’ve been double-masking for a while. It gives me some extra protection and makes me feel a bit more comfortable when I head out to the grocery store. But yesterday, Dr. Anthony Fauci addressed the idea of double-masking on NBC News’ TODAY.
“So, 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,” said Dr. Fauci. “That’s the reason why you see people either double masking or doing a version of an N95.”
I checked in with Dr. Nina Shapiro from the UCLA School of Medicine and author of HYPE; A Doctor’s Guide to Medical Myths to get some tips about double-masking. Here’s what she had to say:
Q: Does double-masking make a difference in protecting people from the spread of COVID-19?
A: While one mask is better than none, it is now recommended that two masks are, indeed, better than one. The reason is, especially when not wearing a fit-tested N95 mask (the kind that hospital personnel work, which really is form-fitting to the face, preventing any air leak), the fibers of cloth masks and surgical masks are a bit looser. Doubling up gives an extra barrier. Picture a slice of swiss cheese, and the holes are the fibers in the mask. Place another piece of swiss cheese on top of it, and some of those holes will be sealed off. Add physical distancing, hand washing, and staying home if you’re sick, and there you have several more slices of cheese to add layers of a barrier.
Q: If you’re going to wear two masks, how should you layer them? Cloth on the bottom and a surgical mask on top? Vice versa? Two surgical masks? Two cloth masks? Any tips would be helpful.
A: I would recommend either two surgical masks or a cloth mask over a surgical mask. Surgical masks tend to have denser fiber protection, both to the wearer as well as to those around the wearer, and the added density gives more protection. By now, there are some pretty beautiful and stylish cloth masks. Why not make this really tough time a bit more stylish and fun? Kids especially love wearing masks with cartoon characters, sports team logos, super heroes, or fun designs.
Q: Any tips on what NOT to do when double-masking?
A: Double masking is not a ‘pass’ to forego other layers of protection we’ve heard so much about over this year–physical distancing, safe hygiene practices, and staying home when sick.
Q: Do you think double-masking is necessary and if yes, in what settings do you recommend people consider doing it?
A: Double-layer protection is better than single-layer, and now that we have so many new variants in coronavirus, many of which have been found to be highly transmissible (even more contagious that the original covid-19 particle), extra protection is a big help. I would highly recommend it for any indoor activity, commercial travel, visits to a doctor’s office, or if an outdoor activity requires close proximity to others.
Q: What kind of fit should people be looking for when masking up to ensure the mask is doing the best job it can?
A: Mask fit is key. Ideally there should be a form-fitting nasal bridge, which the wearer can pinch to make it snug (this is especially helpful if you wear eyeglasses or sunglasses). There should not be gaps under the chin or on the cheeks. You can try the candle test: blow on a candle with your mask on. If the flame flickers or goes out, the mask is no good for you. You can also test it by exhaling while having your hands near your ears. If you feel air, it’s too loose! The good news is there are so many styles, brands, and shapes of masks out there, that there really is a mask (or two) for everyone.
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