Make it double: When and where should you wear two face masks


It was not until the last day of February 2021 that the Philippines, which currently has the second-highest coronavirus infections and deaths in Southeast Asia, finally received its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines. 

Make it double: When and where should you wear two face masks
The CDC experiment found the unknotted surgical mask blocked 56 percent of cough particles. 

It goes without saying that the arrival of the 600,000 doses of Sinovac vaccine from China does not mean we can let our guards down. Experts advise the safety precautions we have adopted and integrated into our lives, such as wearing of face masks and physical distancing, must be maintained while we await for our turn to get the jab and when the country finally achieves herd immunity—the exact proportion of vaccinated population remains undefined, however. 

The rapid rise of fast-spreading variants of SARS-CoV-2 emphasizes the importance of protecting ourselves. Recently, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study that showed wearing two masks—a surgical mask underneath a fitting cloth mask—increases protection against coronavirus by over 90 percent. The CDC also recommends knotting the ear loops of the surgical mask near the facial covering to further reduce aerosol and droplets leaking out of the mask. 

“The effectiveness of cloth and medical procedure masks can be improved by ensuring that they are well-fitted to the contours of the face to prevent leakage of air around the masks’ edges,” said the CDC research.

Make it double: When and where should you wear two face masks

The study compared no mask, a poorly fitted surgical mask, cloth-only mask, and double masks in a simulation of respiratory droplets between two people—a source and a receiver. It found the receiver’s exposure reduced by more than 95 percent when both the source and the receiver were both fitted with a modified surgical mask plus cloth mask. 

“These laboratory-based experiments highlight the importance of good fit to optimize mask performance. Until vaccine-induced population immunity is achieved, universal masking is a highly effective means to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2 when combined with other protective measures,” the CDC pointed out. 

Experts, however, posit wearing two masks depends on the person’s comfort level and situation. In an interview with Business Insider, epidemiology professor Stephen Morse recommended not to force wearing two masks if the person can no longer breathe through or is not comfortable. 

It also depends on the location and situation: For example, one mask is enough when biking solo through a neighborhood with only a few people; greater protection helps in crowded areas with poor ventilation.  

In an article on prevention.com, Christopher Sulmonte, M.H.A., project administrator at the Johns Hopkins Biocontainment Unit, said double masking was recommended in a crowded indoor locations such as grocery stores, public transportation, and other high-traffic areas. 

Make it double: When and where should you wear two face masks
TWO IS BETTER. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found wearing a fitted surgical mask underneath a well-fitting cloth mask reduces the wearer’s exposure to coronavirus by over 90 percent.
Infographic from the CDC

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Steven Gordon of the Cleveland Clinic, meanwhile, said, “if your mask already has multiple layers and fits tightly, it’s not necessary to double mask,” which aligns with the World Health Organization’s recommendation of wearing fabric masks with three layers (an inner layer that absorbs, a middle layer that filters, and an outer layer that is non-absorbent). 

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