'Double masking': Government scientists to consider updating advice

Henry Bodkin
·2 min read
President Joe Biden speaks during a visit to the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda MD - AP
President Joe Biden speaks during a visit to the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda MD - AP

Double masking is being considered by government scientists, a senior official has suggested, as she said the “more layers you have better”.

Dr Susan Hopkins, of Public Health England, said that people should ideally wear masks made up of three layers to get the best protection.

However, in response to a question about a growing trend of wearing more than one mask in the US, she said a specialist committee was in an “ongoing discussion” about updating the advice.

It follows the recent publication of a study by the US Centres of Disease Control and Prevention which found that the best way to stop infection was to wear a cloth mask on top of a surgical mask.

President Biden is among numerous prominent American figures to have opted for a double mask approach in recent weeks.

Leading UK scientists have also said that two masks is likely to make a difference, although not by offering double the protective effect.

Good quality protective face masks are made up of three layers, but many come with less protection, leading scientists to question whether a two-mask approach is desirable.

Speaking at Monday night’s Downing Street press conference, Dr Hopkins (below) said: “I think what we know is that the more layers you have the better.

Healthcare Epidemiologist Consultant Susan Hopkins, - PA
Healthcare Epidemiologist Consultant Susan Hopkins, - PA

“And so that we recommend at least two layers in the UK and ideally three layers in a mask, and that is really important to reduce the viral transmission, both from you to others and from others to you.

“We have got face masks and face coverings advisory group who meet on a regular basis, and look at new and emerging evidence, and the US has looked at some of that evidence as well.”

She added: “We are in an ongoing discussion about what to do next, but we think one mask that has more than two layers in it is currently effective for the vast majority of the population.”

The US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention study showed that transmission of the virus can be reduced by up to 96.5 per cent if both an infected and uninfected person wear a tightly fitting face covering.

The analysis compared wearing no mask, a poorly fitted surgical mask, a cloth-only mask and a double mask in a simulation of the spread of respiratory drops between an infected and uninfected person.

The research concluded that the best way to stop the spread is to wear a cloth mask on top of a surgical mask or to wear a surgical mask on its own but tie the straps where they meet the mask to ensure there are no gaps.

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