Should you double your face mask? Photo by Amin Moshrefi on Unsplash
Culture

Is it time we upgrade our face masks? Foreign doctors say yes, Pinoy doctors think we’re fine

Who should we listen to?   
RHIA GRANA | Feb 08 2021

International medical experts are raising concern over the emergence of more infectious Covid-19 variants and mutant versions, and are urging the public to be more circumspect when it comes to their mask use.

Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States, recently took to Twitter to advise Americans to “consider upgrading from a cloth mask to a surgical mask, or from a surgical mask to an N95/KN95/equivalent if available.” Better masks, he pointed out, may help reduce risk from more contagious strains.

There are European countries that have already implemented more stringent measures when it comes to mask-wearing to control the spread of the highly transmissible virus.

Germany, which has recorded over two million Covid cases since the start of the pandemic, has mandated its people to wear surgical masks or higher-specification N95 or FFP-2 devices in shops and public transits instead of cloth face coverings. 

Former CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden advised Americans to consider upgrading their face masks. Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Austria, which has logged over 400,000 Covid cases, has also advised its people to switch to FFP2, also known as KN95, N95 or P2, when in business establishments and public transport areas. 

France, which already has a total of 3.3 million cases and over 78,000 deaths, has likewise prohibited the use of homemade and industrially made fabric masks in public places. Daniel Camus, a member of its high council for public health, pointed out that “Category 2 or fabric masks only filter 70%, while category 1 masks, like surgical masks, can go as high as 95% if worn properly.”

 

Experts weigh in

Lindsey Marr, a researcher at Virginia Tech. who studies airborne transmission, pointed out the drawback of wearing a cloth mask. “A cloth mask might be 50% effective at blocking viruses and aerosols,” Marr said in an interview with National Public Radio. “We’re at the point now ... that we need better than 50%.” 

According to Marr, wearing cloth mask outdoors would be sufficient as virus droplets can easily dissipate. But when indoors—say, in a grocery store where infectious particles can accumulate—it is necessary to wear a better mask, ideally an N95.

Marr also suggested other ways to up the public’s mask-wearing game: One is to wear the cloth mask on top of the surgical mask to achieve a tighter fit; two, to insert a filter made of polypropylene—not a coffee filter—to the pocket of your cloth mask to boost its filtering efficiency; three, to look for fabric with a tight weave (studies have shown that 100% cotton is a good choice); four, make sure your face mask fits snugly over your mouth and nostrils—meaning, there are no gaps; and five, consider wearing N95s or KN95 respirator.

There are no evidences suggesting that wearing two layers of face mask can provide better protection against Covid, said Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire. Photo from ABS-CBN News

In a recent press briefing, current CDC director Rochelle Walensky said they are studying whether wearing two masks could provide more protection than just one.

This is in light of leading infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci’s statement that he often wears two masks. He also appeared on the “Today” show, saying two layers “just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective.” Fauci, who is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the US, said that the agency will issue a recommendation once they reach findings.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health (DOH) doesn’t see the need to issue new guidelines on mask wearing, despite the existence of new Covid variants in the country. Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a press briefing that there are no evidences that suggest the effectiveness of wearing two layers of masks. She said a single face mask would provide 60 to 70 percent protection, and wearing a face shield while practicing physical distancing could increase it up to 99%. 

Infectious diseases expert Dr. Edsel Maurice Salvana also told ANCX that the World Health Organization doesn’t recommend double masking. “Our addition of face shield is already above and beyond current recommendations,” he said.