by ISAIAH DURAN
Many members of the UMW community have begun to use two masks to add an extra layer of protection.
“Walking around campus I am starting to see handfuls of students wearing double masks now,” said Rene Sanders, a nurse practitioner and Associate Director of Student Health at UMW. “It protects you more when someone sneezes in the grocery store or in class. It protects you and everyone around you.”
The practice of “double masking,” where a cloth mask is worn over a surgical mask, has already been made a part of the UMW Health Center Protocol. Staff and patients at the UMW Health Center are now being told to double mask for appointments to protect themselves and those around them. They will also be providing a second mask for those who need it.
Growing concerns about new variants of COVID-19 in Virginia and a greater than ever risk on campus have led to staff and students reevaluating their mask practices, along with the rising number of cases near UMW. Double masking is making a select group in the community feel safer as they go to work, to class or walk around campus.
“I have not yet been able to get my vaccine and I teach classes and labs where I am in close contact with a lot of students on a daily basis. Double masking is necessary when I am in the classroom to minimize the risk of contracting the virus and hopefully breaking the chain of transmission,” explained Dr. Swati Agrawal, an assistant biology professor at UMW.
Sanders explained that filtration efficiency of a cloth mask used on its own is nearly 40 percent lower than double masking. The combination of a surgical mask and a cloth mask provides over 90 percent filtration efficiency, which means 90 percent of air particles are being filtered out.
A steady increase in COVID-19 cases in Fredericksburg and the recent appearance of new variants of COVID-19 are a cause for concern for some in the UMW community. The new threat of the U.K. strain is leading health care professionals to suggest continued practice of double masking.
“Yes, I would recommend a double mask. A surgical mask with the wire across the nose for more of a snug fit, and then you can wear your cloth mask on top,” said Sanders.
Double masking has proved effective when done correctly. The CDC has released guidelines on its website to outline the proper way to double mask to achieve the best possible protection. They suggest a disposable mask under a cloth mask.
For those who wish to not wear two masks during the day, Sanders made note of the fact that an N95 mask can be worn by itself without a cloth mask on top. An N95 provides as much protection as the double mask setup that is suggested.
An alternative to double masking, such as the N95, has proved to be important to students who do not feel comfortable in their masks or cannot double mask due to health restrictions.