Is Wearing Two Masks Better Than One?
Experts Say it’s Time to Layer Up
We hear the term on the news and see it at the grocery store, but the practice of “double masking” may not be as self-explanatory as it seems. In fact, people may find it confusing.
Most people interpret the meaning of the term “double masking” as simply wearing two masks at once, one over the top of another, but that’s not what the experts have in mind with their recommendation. When experts urge Canadians to double up on masks, what they really want everyone to do is to address the fit of a mask to improve performance. And to maximize performance, the best fit is achieved by wearing two masks.
As we know, the prime method of virus transmission, still true with the new variants, is through the droplets from our mouths—droplets that fly out when we speak, cough and sneeze. Some of these droplets become tiny particles that can easily be inhaled by people in close proximity.
How well a mask works depends on two things: filtration and fit. Good filtration prevents as many particles as possible from escaping, and a good fit means that there are no leaks around the sides, where air—and viruses—can leak through. Even a small gap can degrade the performance of your mask by 50 percent.
That’s why doctors and nurses who work with virus patients wear gear referred to as “personal protective equipment,” or PPE, which maintains very strict standards and recommends that masks (or “respirators”) should have a 95 per cent filtration efficiency.
Canada currently recommends the use of a three-layer mask and luckily these are, for now, available through online PPE sellers, such as MedPPE Canada. Right now, MedPPE Canada features, on its website, 3-ply Yafox Type IIR certified masks, with bacterial and particle and bacterial filtration efficiencies of 98%. For more information, go to: https://medppecan.com/
Although the 3-ply masks are a good everyday standard, Canadians perhaps should think of opting for double masking. A recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that wearing a 3-ply medical mask, containing a filtering layer of polypropylene, tends to be too loose-fitting around the face. The loose fit creates gaps that might allow transmission of the virus. Wearing a cloth mask, that tends to fit closely to the contours of the face, over a medical mask, creates a seal around the edges and forces air through the filtering layer. The CDC believes that this duo provides the best performance and is a winning combination to increase protection.
When you need maximum protection, double mask
When you need maximum protection in high-risk situations, you should double mask. A high-risk situation is one where you must be in an indoor environment with other people, such as on a bus or train, waiting in a lineup for services in a small area, such in a bank’s ATM alcove or in a taxi cab ride. Double masking is not recommended for extra protection outdoors unless you will be in a densely crowded area or having a conversation in close proximity with a group of people.
Currently, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam, recommends that Canadians wear three-layer face masks with one of the layers consisting of a filter. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) also recommends a mask of at least three layers, two of which should be tightly woven material fabric. The third, middle layer should be a filter-type fabric, such as non-woven polypropylene. They also recommend that those who don’t have a three-layer mask with a filter should consider wearing a disposable, medical mask under a cloth mask.
Best masks for doubling up?
For the medical mask underneath, remember that not all masks are created equal and that certain materials are better at filtering out particles. Materials like non-woven polypropylene which is used to make surgical masks. If you’re using a simple rectangular disposable mask, then you should add a tight-fitting cloth mask over it. Even if the medical mask has three layers it will not protect you if air leaks around the sides. The purpose of the top layer is to hold down the edges of the bottom layer. For the fabric mask on top, a tightly woven cotton works best.
Are You Double Masking Correctly?
To determine if your double masking technique is effective, check the extremities of the mask around your face, especially at the bridge of the nose and around the chin and cheeks.
There should be no sensation of warm air escaping from the mask. If air is not leaking, it’s an indication that the mask you’re wearing is a good fit. Also, if you wear glasses, the lens would become foggy once you put the mask on, indicating leakage. Wearing more than two masks at one time is not recommended as it makes it difficult to breathe.
Are any single masks as effective as double masking?
There are “high-quality masks with a snug fit that are effective on their own, for example, a N95 or a three-layer cloth mask made from high-quality fabrics [that] offer a tight fit and high-filtration. In fact, certain types of masks shouldn’t be used for doubling up—namely N95, KN95, and other respirators that have been designed to be worn alone.
If you’re able to opt for N95s or KN95s, which are actually “respirators,” you should do so. Med PPE Canada’s KN95 respirator masks are recommended by Health Canada, the CDC, approved by the FDA and are an essential resource for keeping healthcare workers and the public safe. With almost identical specifications, these masks have similar filter performance, flow rate, inhalation and exhalation metrics resistance and KN95 masks are manufactured from a non-woven fabric which helps keep users safe from smog, dust, air pollution, bacteria and more. For more information, go to: https://medppecan.com/