Double masking proves appealing to staff and students



The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that wearing a surgical mask underneath a cloth mask can reduce the transmission of COVID-19 by up to 96.5 percent. Other important factors to consider when selecting a mask are its fit and filtration capabilities.

In the past year, nearly everything about our lives has changed. A key physical distinction between pre-pandemic life and present day is the presence of face masks in our daily lives. Now, when one goes outside, they are greeted with the masked faces of strangers and friends alike, all being worn in an attempt to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Recently, it has become increasingly common to see others wearing not just one mask, but two. On Feb. 10, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that wearing either a tightly fitted surgical mask or two masks — a surgical mask underneath a cloth mask — can reduce transmission of COVID-19 by up to 96.5 percent.

Registered nurse Megan Day works full time at the high school’s 115 Greenough campus. Day said that two of the most important factors when wearing a mask are fit and filtration, both of which are improved when wearing two masks.

“What the double masking does is add more layers of material, which helps to reduce the number of respiratory droplets containing [the] virus coming through the mask. Double masking is another way of enhancing fit by pressing the inner mask closer to your face, thereby reducing the amount of air that leaks around the edges of the mask,” Day said.

Math teacher Dave Knott has worn two masks since the onset of the pandemic. Since the return to hybrid learning, he has added a filter to his mask regime.

“What I wear when I’m at work is not actually two masks. It’s one mask, and a super high quality filter that 3M [the company that makes N95s] makes. These filters are for industrial applications, and the CDC says they’re as good as [the] N95s,” Knott said. “I have [the filter] wrapped around my cloth mask and I suck air through it all day long.”

To go about double masking correctly, Day said one should wear a disposal mask underneath a cloth mask, rather than wearing two cloth masks or two disposable ones. Day also emphasized that KN95 masks do not need to be doubled up and can continue to be worn as single masks.

Science teacher Sara Hemphill began wearing two masks more recently, and said that wearing two barely feels different.

“Now it’s a habit and it’s so easy that I don’t really see why I wouldn’t [wear two masks],” Hemphill said. “Even if the effect [was] marginal, I can’t imagine looking and feeling like, ‘Oh man, that was such a huge hassle.’ There’s really no downside.”

For those who would like to try wearing two masks, Day recommended that they test it out at home prior to going outside to see if they are able to breathe normally and if their vision is impiared by the addition of a second mask. Day also suggested the use of a mask fitter or brace, as well as tying a knot in the ear loops of a mask as alternative methods of enhancing fit and filtration.

With double masking becoming more and more prevalent, a few techniques have arisen for securing masks. One is a mask brace worn over the initial covering, meant to tighten the edges around the face. Tying excess string from the mask strap in a knot behind the ear, works in a similar fashion. (GRAPHIC BY ROSA CARAMAZZA)

The Town of Brookline and the high school do not currently have a policy surrounding double masking. Dr. Swannie Jett, Director of Health and Human Services in Brookline, said via email that the town will neither require nor recommend the wearing of two masks.

Knott said he believes the lack of an official recommendation stems from fear of potential blowback.

“I think that there’s a collective fiction that has to be believed on the part of district leadership that the measures which have already been taken are sufficient, and you have nothing to worry about. Turning around and saying, ‘Actually, everybody needs to wear two masks,’ would be an implicit admission that, perhaps, the initial measures weren’t sufficient,” Knott said.

According to Day, Brookline’s health recommendations are in line with both the CDC and the state of Massachusetts, both of which have universal masking as a foundational mitigation strategy for in person learning.

Whether you choose to wear two masks or not, Day stressed the importance of continuing to wear a mask to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“There’s ample evidence that correcting existing mask use is a critical step everyone can take to prevent getting and spreading COVID-19,” Day said. “Masks work best when everyone wears them, but not all masks provide the same protection, so pay particular attention to fit and filtration when choosing a mask. The important take away though is, no matter what mask you choose, wear one.”