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Should Filipinos start wearing double masks? Here’s what doctors say

By JUSTINE PUNZALAN Published Jan 27, 2021 10:20 am

Many people in the United States have been doubling up their protection against the pandemic by wearing two face masks at the same time. Question is, do we need to do the same in the Philippines?

“Double-masking” began to generate buzz in the US when poet Amanda Gorman and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, were all seen wearing surgical masks underneath their cloth masks during President Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 21.

Discussions have been continuing since then, but for White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, double-masking is a no-brainer.

“Because, I mean, this is a physical covering to prevent droplets and virus to get in,” Fauci told NBC News’ Today. “So, 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. And that’s the reason why you see people either double masking or doing a version of an N95.”

Amanda Gorman (left photo), and  Chasten Buttigieg and Pete Buttigieg (right photo) were spotted wearing double masks during the inauguration of US President Joe Biden. Photos: Win McNamee and Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

N95 is considered the gold standard of face masks as it can prevent 95 percent of small particles from entering the nose and mouth, especially when properly fitted.

Same as Dr. Fauci, former Inter-Agency Task Force on COVID-19 adviser and health reform advocate Dr. Anthony Leachon said that next to the N95 mask, wearing double masks could best protect you against COVID-19.

The physician recommends Philippine residents to do so, given that the Department of Health has been reporting cases of the more transmissible COVID-19 strain, known as B.1.1.7 or the UK variant, in the country since Jan. 13.

“I think kailangan magdouble up tayo ng face mask natin—‘yung ordinary, surgical face mask—or we use the N95 para isa lang gamitin natin,” he told PhilSTAR L!fe.

“Ang reason for that, meron tayong new strain. ‘Yung new strain ay highly transmissible at highly infectious, 70 to 80%,” he continued. “And we know that it has reached Northern Luzon—Bontoc province—and then also Calamba [in Laguna]. And then the newest report of the Department of Health states that the other contacts of the 16 initial cases, nag-increase na.”

In addition to that, Dr. Leachon said that much of the country’s population live in congested areas where transmission of COVID-19, especially the new strain, is unmanageable.

“When you combine social distancing, face mask and face shield, that would be 99% reduction. Kaya lang, we are dealing with a highly transmissible strain and we know for a fact na in the [urban areas], they may not actually have the complete protective gear. And they live in places na hindi gaanong malaki and would not encourage social distancing,” he explained

Dr. Leachon added that transmission could also increase in the coming months as the government has been “increasing the volume of mall goers” to revive our economy.

The country’s lack of COVID-19 vaccine is also a point to consider, he said.

“Ang panghuli, wala pa tayong vaccination plan launch date. Unlike sa US and UK kasi, they have the variant, but they have the vaccine. So they can fight,” he continued. “In our situation, what we can only do is, of course, decrease the transmission by wearing the right protective gear, doubling up, then increase our healthcare capacities—'yung testing, isolation centers, quarantine, wala na, e… The only way to protect ourselves is basically to double up the mask.”

In our situation, what we can only do is, of course, decrease the transmission by wearing the right protective gear, doubling up, then increase our healthcare capacities.

While double-masking could be key to preventing the spread of the UK variant, IATF Technical Group member and infectious disease expert Dr. Edsel Salvaña said that the country can still make do with just one. 

“Theoretically it can help, especially for fabric masks. World Health Organization recommends at least three layers,” Dr. Salvaña told PhilSTAR L!fe. But he added,  “I think we are okay with our face shield and face mask combo for now.”

It’s just as good as wearing a single mask because one mask—a surgical mask or N95—as long as it’s worn properly, is good enough to provide protection.

Dr. Edwin Pasumbal, a fellow of Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, likewise said that a double mask mandate is not necessary in the country.

“It’s just as good as wearing a single mask because one mask—a surgical mask or N95—as long as it’s worn properly, is good enough to provide protection. Kaya wala sa recommendation pa natin ang magsuot ng double masks,” he said to PhilSTAR L!fe.

Dr. Pasumbal noted that it is recommended in “special circumstances” though. “Ngayon, if you would notice, iyong iba nagdo-double mask. Only special circumstances, like for example healthcare workers, sometimes they wear N95, kasi minsan nire-recycle or extended use iyong N95. So for added protection, to preserve the N95 that they are wearing, naglalagay sila ng added surgical mask on top,” he said.

Dr. Pasumbal added, “Or sa recommendation ngayon, in case someone is wearing a mask with a valve, ang recommendation is takpan nalang ng surgical mask. Other than that, a single mask will do.”