As California reopens, we should all consider double-masking | The Sacramento Bee

Opinion

Dr. Fauci does it. Shouldn’t all Californians be double-masking?

We’re paraphrasing a bit, but according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, two masks may indeed be better than one.

Here’s the exact quote he gave to NBC’s Today Show: “It just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective.”

And in fact, Dr. Fauci practices what he sort-of preaches; he was recently spotted with a disposable mask clearly visible underneath a cute purple, penguin-print cloth mask.

Other influencers are double-masking too, including President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman wore a disposable mask under her bejeweled red face mask.

harris photo.jpg
Patrick Semansky AP

It is true that some health officials have been slower to embrace the double-masking trend.

The latest guidelines on masking from the state Department of Public Health are silent on the issue.

Double-masking “can’t hurt”

In San Luis Obispo County, which continues to see cases surge, Health Officer Penny Borenstein was somewhat tentative: “It can’t hurt,” she said via email. “If the person feels they can’t catch their breath or has underlying respiratory insufficiency, however, they probably shouldn’t do it. CDC just came out with a recommendation to double layer. So, it’s not a bad idea, but there is yet to be data on how much transmission will be thwarted through this strategy.”

Mind you, the CDC isn’t actually advising that we wear two masks, but rather, recommends a single mask with at least two layers.

It’s about time it recognized that multiple layers offer more protection.

With all due respect to the CDC and other members of the U.S. medical establishment, they have not been quick to clue us in on best practices during this pandemic.

Remember in the early days, when face masks weren’t even recommended?

We can’t help but wonder, would fewer people have succumbed to this awful disease if we had been urged to wear face masks much sooner?

That’s why it makes sense to pay attention to what medical experts are now saying about double-masking.

The buzz began a few weeks ago, when it was reported that two masks — such as a disposable mask topped by a cloth mask — creates more of an “obstacle course” for viral particles.

Here’s a helpful, non-technical description of what goes on, taken from a scientific research article: “Air must curve as it flows around individual, tightly packed fibers of the material, like a race car swerving around cones of an obstacle course. As the air curves, the aerosols it carries cannot make the sharp bends and therefore slam into the fibers, or they come too close to the fibers and stick to them.”

That same article, by Monica Gandhi and Dr. Linsey C. Marr, suggests that for “maximal protection” members of the public wear either a cloth mask on top of a surgical mask (as seen on Dr. Fauci) or a single, three-layer mask.

This is valuable information, especially as California begins opening up again, which mean there will be more people in the shops and restaurants and out on the street.

Still too many anti-maskers

We recognize there are still far too many people who aren’t even wearing one mask, not because they have medical conditions, but because they are under the delusion that masks “don’t work,” in spite of overwhelming evidence that they lower the rate of transmission.

Or even worse, they believe it infringes on their personal freedom, which in this case, equates to “freedom” to infect and possibly even kill others unlucky enough to come into contact with them.

Unfortunately, they’re getting way with it, because enforcement is practically nonexistent.

That makes it all the more incumbent on the rest of us to follow safety precautions that include masking, physical distancing and avoiding large social gatherings — especially indoors — with people from outside our immediate households.

With new variants of the virus emerging in Great Britain, Brazil and South Africa, raising questions about whether current vaccines can effectively combat them, risk avoidance is more critical than ever.

Some European nations are now mandating medical-grade masks as protection against the new variants.

In the U.S., it’s still important to reserve N95 masks for medical personnel.

But some medical experts say doubling up on masks may provide almost as much protection as N95s.

If that’s that case — and if you don’t have underlying medical issues that make double-masking difficult — why not make it a regular practice, at least in places where it’s hard to social distance and/or you’re likely to come in contact with people who aren’t wearing masks?

As Dr. Borenstein notes, it can’t hurt.

And on the flip side, it could even save a life.

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