Double-masking? Go for it (as long as you can breathe)

Postscript

February 3, 2021

Double-masking? Go for it (as long as you can breathe)

The important consideration is that your mask, or masks, fit tightly, says an infectious disease specialist.

What's a conscientious individual to do?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, seemed to say two masks couldn’t hurt. President Biden has been spotted double-masking, as have members of  his cabinet. Now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which still recommends masking, singular, is evaluating a recommendation to double-mask.

Dr. Seth Cohen, head of UW Medicine Infectious Disease and Travel Clinic, says one well-fitted mask is more important than wearing two. He’s quick to add, though, that if you want to double-mask, go for it – as long as you can breathe.

“I really focus on making sure the mask fits well and has multiple layers, whether that has to be two masks or one,” he said. “I’m awaiting additional recommendations from the CDC but for right now, when I’m out in the community, I like the idea of a mask that has multiple layers of fabric.”

The surgical mask that Cohen wore during this interview has three layers of material and provides good protection. But for people who can't get hospital-grade masks or N95s, which are still in short supply, a cloth mask or one that allows for a filter insert is fine, he said.

“I think in the community, particularly when people may not have access to hospital-grade personal protective equipment, getting additional masks or finding one that works well for them makes sense,” he said.

Cohen emphasizes that cloth masks, with several layers, work. 

“I don’t think people should be compelled to rush out and buy a second or third mask,” he added. “Whatever mask you have, make sure if fits your face well. Make sure there are not any major gaps.”

These measures should provide protection, even against the variants spreading in communities now, he said.

Apart from masks, physical distancing and handwashing remain crucial to keeping transmission low. 

"I do think the next six to eight weeks are critical. We are buying time in our communities to get people vaccinated so more the more people can adhere to masking, distancing and handwashing guidelines, that means communities are safer, and it allows the high-risk populations to get vaccinated," Cohen said.

– Barbara Clements, 253.740.5043, bac60@uw.edu

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