Is it time to double mask?


Credit: Credit Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Recently, the Center for Disease and Control (CDC) found that alterations to how we mask ourselves should be considered.

It is common knowledge that masks work. The CDC once again reaffirmed in their new report that masks “substantially reduce exposure from infected wearers (source control) and reduce exposure of uninfected wearers (wearer exposure).”

This report, released Feb. 10, 2021, is part of their Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). What is special about this report is that it instructs us to alter our mask habits.

In case the text is too small, here is what the second graphic says:

”In lab tests with dummies, exposure to potentially infectious aerosols decreased by about 95% when they both wore tightly fitted masks.” Potentially infectious aerosols include droplets from coughs or sneezes.

Additionally, in order to fit the masks better to the face, the CDC recommends the following options.

– Cloth mask over medical procedure mask
– Medical procedure mask with knotted ear loops and tucked-in sides
– Mask fitter
– Nylon covering over mask.

These new CDC procedures parallel what chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci has said: double-masking is “common sense.”

However, not all professionals agree on the merits of double masking. David Rothamer, engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, opposes double masks because it “consumes more masks.” He also said “can also lead to more air leakage,” but did not elaborate on how.

However, Rothman is not opposed to double-masking if it creates a “better fit” around the face to limit more aerosols from escaping.

Linsey Marr, a Virginia Tech engineering professor, says signs of loose face-coverings include “eyeglasses fogging up or cold breath coming from the sides of masks.” An easy test is to light a match and try to blow it out while wearing a mask: if it extinguishes with ease, it is time to try a new mask.

Marr suggests trying to focus on finding a mask that compliments your face shape.

To double-mask or not is the question. Different combinations of different masks can provide different results than shown by the CDC. Most importantly, wearing either one or two masks does not negate the importance of practicing safety measures like social distancing, washing hands properly, disinfecting commonly touched surfaces, and not touching faces in public.