Does Wearing More Than One Mask at a Time Make You Safer?

Face masks have become very essential protective wear since the COVID-19 pandemic began, having been recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Centre for Disease Controls (CDCs) across the world.

According to scientists, nose masks protect healthy people from inhaling infectious aerosols (droplets) as well as reducing the spread of the virus from infected persons.

Following the mutation of the virus which has made it more infectious and transmissible (explained in detail in an earlier reports), wearing nose masks has become extremely crucial.

Indeed, in recent weeks, a growing number of public figures including football coaches and politicians have been spotted wearing double masks.

During the funeral of Former President Jerry John Rawlings, Leader of Action Chapel International, Archbishop Nicholas Duncan-Williams, wore double masks which has since generated a lot of conversations on social media.

While delivering his Sunday sermon on January 31,2020, Archbishop Nicholas Duncan-Williams noted that wearing double nose masks merely “had to do with common sense” and adhering to the novel Coronavirus preventive protocols.

In this report, Fact-Check Ghana looks at some of the emerging issues about double face masks or nose masks and provide answers from credible and trusted health and scientific sources.

Is there a need to double masks?

A biosecurity expert who researches mask effectiveness at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Raina MacIntyre, said “yes, in theory, two is better than one and three is even better”.

In a study, Raina MacIntyre found that the adding a nylon layer or a second layer can improve a mask’s ability to filter out small particles or aerosols in the air by creating a tighter seal between the mask and the wearer’s face.

This has been supported by one of America’s prominent infectious disease expert Anthony S. Fauci on a TV programme when he stated: “If you have a physical covering with one layer, you put another layer on, it just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective”.

Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine and an infectious-disease expert at the University of California at San Francisco, however, cautioned that not everyone should start wearing double masks immediately adding that, people who spend much time in crowded places or areas which have a high tendency or risk of spreading the virus may have to wear double masks.

The purpose of wearing two masks is to improve fit and filtration, Gandhi says.

What do I do with my mask if I need to sneeze?

Keep it on! Experts advise. The particles that one sneezes travels faster and further than usual when one is talking.

Eleanor Murray, assistant professor of epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health, said in the event of a sneeze, a mask could serve as an effective barrier to keep potentially infectious droplets or aerosols from spraying into the air. Murray said sneezing into a mask can make it wet and cause it to be less effective, hence the need to carry a backup along.

Do I have to wear my mask even when I’m social distancing?

YES. The American Center for Disease Control (CDC) said the protocols listed by the World Health Organization must be observed at all times. Due to the emergence of the new variants of COVID-19 which has a higher infection rate, there is more than ever, the need to socially distance.

Experts caution that super-spreader events like funerals, weddings and other mass gatherings which observe little or no distancing protocol are not the places to be at this time of the pandemic.

“Six feet isn’t some magic boundary beyond which there’s zero risk,” Linsey Marr, a Virginia Tech Professor who studies airborne transmission of infectious diseases told the Washington Post. “The farther you are away, the better.”

How effectively do I wear my mask?

Mark Rupp, chief of the infectious diseases’ division at the University of Nebraska Medical Center has likened people who wear mask over their mouth without it covering their nose to those who hold seat belts in their hands without clicking it.

“People who wear the masks underneath their nose really are doing very little good for anybody,” he says.

Gregory Poland, Director of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group has noted that “the nose is also one of the prime entry points for the novel coronavirus”, hence must always be covered when you step out of your home, just like the mouth.

How do I safely remove my mask?

“You should try to avoid touching your mask as much as possible”, says Neysa Ernst, nurse manager of the Biocontainment Unit at Johns Hopkins Medicine. She said when one needs to wear a mask, best to only touch the ear loops or the portion of material that sits under your chin.

“There’s a lot of contaminants in the air, so that’s going to be on the front of your mask,” she added. “And then you’re going to be putting your hand on that and then touching your face.”

Ernst recommends thoroughly sanitizing or washing your hands before and after touching a contaminated mask.

This report is produced under the project: COVID-19 Response in Africa: Together for Reliable Information being implemented with funding support from the European Union.

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