Covid-19: Why is double masking important now more than ever?

ByJyoti Shelar, Mumbai
Aug 04, 2021 10:40 PM IST

As offices open up, mandatory double masking in closed environments can help in reducing the risk of infections, say experts

Wearing two masks at a time is an effective technique to improve the fitting and protection provided to the face. Yet, as Covid-19 cases decline in Mumbai, many of us who had started using double masks, have now returned to single masks. Double face coverings, however, are important now, more than ever, as the highly infectious Delta variant continues to spread at the same time when the city is unlocking, and only 10% of the city’s population is fully vaccinated.

A beneficiary gets inoculated against Covid-19 at Nair Hospital. (Satish Bate/HT PHOTO)
A beneficiary gets inoculated against Covid-19 at Nair Hospital. (Satish Bate/HT PHOTO)

As we breathe, talk, cough or sneeze, we expel tiny droplets into the air. Masks mainly help in trapping these droplets into the fibrous layers. The wearer of the masks is not only protected from coming in contact with such droplets suspended in the air or from a direct splash while interacting with someone, but they also prevent letting their own droplets out into the air. But all of this depends on the type and fitting of the masks.

An Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bhubaneshwar study published in the journal Physics of Fluids last month stated that combining two masks provides an additional layer of protection and better fitting to minimise the leakage of droplets expelled during coughing, sneezing, talking, and breathing. Such leakages may cause the airborne transmission of the Covid-19 virus. The researchers used mannequins along with breathing simulators for the study. They used a combination of water and glycerin to create a fog in order to visualise the droplets.

After thoroughly analysing the various combinations of masks, the IIT researchers concluded that a combination of N95 and a cotton mask was the best for safety as well as breathing comfort. While other combinations like surgical mask and N95 or surgical mask and cotton mask minimised leakage, the wearer required more effort to breathe.

According to an IIT Bombay study published in October 2020, a cough of a Covid-19 infected person can contaminate a large volume of surrounding air with the virus. The size of cough clouds is nearly seven times smaller when one wears a surgical mask and nearly 23 times smaller with an N95 mask, the study stated. “With an additional mask, one can further reduce the contamination,” said Rajneesh Bhardwaj, associate professor, department of mechanical engineering at IIT Bombay and co-author of the study.

As offices open up, mandatory double masking in closed environments can help in reducing the risk of infections. Medical experts are rooting for double masking for many reasons- to be in control of the anticipated third wave, to reduce the possibility of going under full-fledged lockdowns in the future and let the city gradually get back to the pre-Covid-19 levels.

“One mask does not seal the area around the nose and mouth properly,” said Dr Rahul Pandit, an intensive care specialist and member of Maharashtra’s Covid-19 task force. “It is the second mask that helps seal the mask underneath. Also, when the mask inside becomes moist due to sweat, the outer mask continues to offer some protection,” he said.


Basics of masking

-Make sure your mask fits snugly against your face.

-Gaps can let air with respiratory droplets leak in and out around the edges of the mask

-Pick a mask with layers to keep your respiratory droplets in and others’ out

-A mask with layers will stop more respiratory droplets from getting inside your mask or escaping from your mask if you are sick

Wearing two masks

-Use a cloth mask that has multiple layers of fabric

-Wear a disposable mask underneath a cloth mask

-The cloth mask should push the edges of the disposable mask against your face

- Make sure you can see and breathe easily

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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