Driver Falls 70 Feet Off Icy Highway Overpass in Milwaukee
It might sound uncomfortable, but could wearing two masks be the answer to lowering the transmission of the South African strain of coronavirus that’s currently spreading through the UK? This is according to a member of New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), who believes that layering up our face coverings is the “safest way to proceed” against the new variant.
The news comes after a study in South Africa found that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine may be only 10 per cent effective against the new strain. Double-masking isn’t an entirely new idea. In January, Dr Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to US president Joe Biden, said wearing two masks or face coverings at the same time is “common sense” and may offer a higher level of protection against Covid as the world deals with the emergence of new strains. “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,” he said.
Indeed the idea already seems to have taken off in the US: Biden and vice-president Kamala Harris were both seen wearing two face masks at their inauguration ceremony. So too was US national youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman – people spotted a white mask peeping out from beneath her red and diamante one. Pete Buttigieg, the former presidential candidate and now the nominee for secretary of transportation, was also seen double-masking, wearing a high-quality medical grade mask underneath a black fabric one.
The concept of double-masking is relatively straightforward: simply layer one on top of the other, ideally a cloth mask on top of a surgical mask. The former “provides an additional layer of filtration” and improves the fit, and the latter “acts as a filter”, according to experts outlined in the science journal Cell. Together, the masks offer the public “maximum protection.” The trend, however, hasn’t yet taken off in the same way in the UK, but should it?
It’s true there is a growing body of evidence which suggests that face masks are effective at preventing coronavirus transmission; one Canadian study found covering the face indoors resulted in up to 46 per cent fewer new cases. But there remains little scientific evidence at this stage to suggest that wearing two face coverings could lower transmission rates. Dr Benjamin Killingley, of University College London Hospital NHS Trust, and a member of NERVTAG, told the Telegraph that although it’s a “common sense” idea, it isn’t “grounded in lots of study… not because there’s evidence one way or the other; there just isn’t really great evidence.” He added that if one mask reduces the spread virus particles which come out of your mouth by 80 per cent, wearing another on top may reduce that remaining 20 per cent by another 80 per cent.
Dr Shaun Fitzgerald, Director of the Centre for Climate Repair at Cambridge, agrees that double masking “could in theory reduce the likelihood of transmission”, and help in the battle against new mutant strains. “This is because the more obstacles you put in the path which can capture or impede the virus, then less virus can make it through,” he says. However, Fitzgerald adds that there are other factors which must be considered. He says that people need to remember that wearing face masks is mainly about stopping the spread of infection rather than protecting the wearer from catching the virus.
While donning two masks can help give the wearer an element of control, it also still leaves their eyes exposed – which studies have shown can be another possible point of transmission. There are practical elements to consider, too. As Fitzgerald sees it, wearing two masks might mean you are more inclined to adjust them, or touch your face more frequently, which could negate the benefits of wearing a covering in the first place.
He maintains that the best way to protect yourself and others from Covid is to avoid mixing with other households.
Once we are out of lockdown, he adds that “hands, face, space, and air” are going to be the four most important factors in keeping transmission rates of the new strain down. “Ensuring you are in an adequately ventilated environment, is important and especially so in winter when there may be a temptation to close all the windows completely.
We mustn’t – we should crack open the high level windows to keep the air reasonably fresh,” he says.