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Are two masks better than one? Doctors weigh in

The Keene Sentinel
Published: 2/12/2021 2:51:37 PM

Nearly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, masking in public has become almost second nature. And now people are wondering: Are two masks better than one?

Among some local health experts, feelings are mixed.

Dr. Michael Lindberg, chief medical officer at Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough, said he’s in favor of the community adopting the practice.

Masks “are designed to block particles and small droplets,” he said. “Each mask is developed so there is a certain side where that can escape, but by putting two masks on you’re limiting that.”

But Dr. Aalok Khole, an infectious-disease physician at Cheshire Medical Center in Keene, said while you can double mask, it isn’t necessarily needed.

“Apart from commonsense driving this belief, we do not have hard-core evidence at this point to suggest that double masking is better than wearing a single mask,” he said in an email.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t have guidelines on whether to double mask.

However, the idea has gained traction in recent weeks, with the discovery of more contagious variants of the novel coronavirus.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, said last week “it just makes common sense” to wear two masks at once. Professional athletes and national officials, such as President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, have also been spotted doubling up.

For double masking to work, the right filtering capacity and fit are key, according to Khole and Lindberg.

Surgical or medical-grade masks should be on the inside with a cloth mask on top, they both said, to enhance the fit and filtering capacity.

“Different masks have different grades of protectiveness,” Lindberg said. “The N95 is kind of our gold standard, then surgical and then cloth masks.”

People who are in high-risk positions — such as those in long-term care facilities or with pre-existing conditions — should “definitely be double masking right now,” according to Lindberg.

And as long as you don’t find it harder to breathe, he added, anyone who wants to take an extra step to protect themselves and others can double up.

Khole said the general public should be cautious of using N95s because — in addition to them being uncomfortable to wear for prolonged time periods — the masks need to be fit-tested to work properly.

And he said while there’s no harm in double masking, it doesn’t mean a single mask won’t work.

“As long as you have a mask that fits well such that it covers your mouth and nose, prevents leaks from the sides and tucks well under your chin, and has at least two layers of effective filtering material, I do not see why a single mask would not be efficacious,” he said.

Whether you decide to wear one or two, a mask isn’t the only solution to fighting the pandemic, Khole added.

“Masks are just one leg of the stool,” he said. “We will still have to maintain physical distancing, hand hygiene, and staying away from others when sick to truly prevent the spread.”

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.




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