Proper way of masking is important
Be it a single mask or double mask, what’s important is wearing it properly, says Dr Abdul Ghafur, consultant, Infectious Diseases, Apollo Hospitals, Chennai, and adds that double masking is advisable. “If you wear a surgical mask, you can wear a cloth mask on top of that. You can take a call on masking, depending on the circumstances and environment you are in. If you work in a hospital, it is advisable to wear a surgical mask at least. In a low-risk environment, a cloth will do, but if you have to be in a crowded area for any reason, a surgical mask and cloth mask over it helps,” says Dr Abdul. But health experts opine that the main problem is people not wearing masks properly. “Despite charging fine, public’s non-compliance is the main challenge,” says Dr P Sampath.
In this situation, where there’s rapid spread of virus, triple-layered surgical masks are ideal while stepping out. But many don’t wear it properly,” says Dr P Sampath, Joint Director, Public Health & Preventive Medicine. According to him, double masking is good in highly exposed places. “While doctors and nurses, who come in close contact with patients, must wear N95 masks, other hospital staff can go for double masking,” suggests Dr Sampath.
Dr Abdul observes that double masking helps keep a check on those who don’t wear masks properly. “The main excuse is — it’s slipping off. I don’t think that happens if you wear two masks. So, you’ll probably see fewer people with masks on their chin if double masking is insisted on,” he says. However, he also cautions, saying, “there might be people who might genuinely have difficulty breathing while wearing two masks. I find it difficult. When I am seeing a patient, I wear an N95 mask. Otherwise, I wear a surgical mask.”
Efficacy of a mask depends on different factors, say experts
A public health expert, Dr K Kolandaswamy says that the efficacy of these masks depends on factors like regular hand washing, ventilation, social distancing, etc. “If you wash hands often, ensure good ventilation and maintain a two-meter gap between others, you are good with even a cloth mask. The efficacy of surgical masks and N95 also depends on these factors. Double masking alone doesn’t guarantee protection,” states Dr Kolandaswamy, who recently retired as the director of the Tamil Nadu Health Department. He adds, “If you step inside a poorly ventilated and crowded store, you are prone to contract the virus even with a mask. Because you are still breathing; the masks are not air tight. It is important to have good ventilation to improve the quality of air we breathe and prevent the virus from spreading indoors. Also, if you don’t wash hands after removing your mask, you may get infected. So, more than double masking, the effectiveness of mask wearing can be increased by ensuring these three factors — good ventilation, social distancing and hand hygiene.”
How you maintain your mask is also important, says Dr Deepak Subramaniam, senior consultant, laparoscopic surgeon and deputy medical superintendent, who runs the COVID center at GEM Hospital. “If it’s a cloth mask, wear it one day, then, wash and sun dry it before using again. Use one cloth mask on alternate days. Surgical and N95 masks are maintained in different ways. Surgical masks are used only once. Meanwhile, there are multiple theories to the maintenance of N95 masks. What I do is that I take one N95 mask on Monday, use it the whole day and then, leave it in the sun the next two days and use it again on Thursday. After that I discard it. So, I use three N95 masks for six days a week. Since I am a health worker, I use it only two times, but an N95 can also be used up to three times, but only after sun-drying it after each day’s use. But if a person works in the COVID ward, our recommendation is to dispose of the mask at the end of the day,” he says.
Nakkhul’s take on double masking
Actor Nakkhul recently shared a post on social media, talking about the importance of double masking. “On my Insta page, I get a lot of messages from people saying, ‘Anna, do spread this word’. So, someone sent me about double masking, too. I then read about it. I know, it may not protect you hundred per cent, but it’s something that gives that extra layer of protection. I wear a surgical mask first and then, a double-layered cotton mask on top of it,” he says.
Ways to improve the effectiveness of a mask
- Make sure your mask fits snugly against your face
- Choose a mask with a nose wire
- Use a mask fitter or brace
- Pick a mask with layers to keep your respiratory droplets in and others’ out
- Wear a disposable mask underneath a cloth mask
- Knot the ear loops of a 3-ply mask and tuck the unneeded material under the edges
When wearing two
- Do not to combine two disposable masks – they are not designed to fit tightly; therefore, wearing more than one will not improve fit
- Do not to combine a KN95 mask with another mask
- Ensure you can see and breathe easily