Omicron: Double mask, surgical mask or cloth mask, what should you wear? Doctors answer
A few experts suggest that a single-layered cloth mask may not be effective against Omicron. We asked two doctors to understand what Indians should do.
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The third phase of the Covid-19 pandemic is at our door. As Omicron cases rise sharply, it has become crucial to follow Covid-appropriate behaviour. Wearing a mask is the first and foremost step that helps control the spread of the virus. It prevents the transfer of particles that may carry the virus from one person to another. With the fear of rapid spread of Omicron, several studies are suggesting ways to reduce the possibilities of the third wave. Recently, Dr Peter Juni, director of Ontario’s Science Advisory Table, said that it is time to ditch the single-layered, cloth mask.
In a conversation with CP24, Dr Juni said, “One thing which is really important to realise is if you have a single layer cloth mask, ditch it, full stop. The minimum would be a double-layered cloth mask that has been washed before so that it is denser and filters better and really fits well. Even better than that, a medical mask below and the cloth mask on top and then it depends on your (exposure).”
WHAT ABOUT INDIA? DOCTORS EXPLAIN
Dr Vivek Anand Padegal, Director Pulmonary Disease at Fortis Hospital Bangalore explained, “During the first and second wave, we ran out of surgical masks and N95 masks. Due to which people switched to cloth masks. There are different recommendations in different countries. And everyone is suggesting wearing a surgical mask or N95 mask.”
“It is not because Omicron is more contagious or cloth masks work less. Masks don’t know the variant. We have a better mask so we should use the best one. It will reduce the transmission rate.”
Illustration: Seemon, DailyO
SHOULD YOU COMPLETELY DITCH CLOTH MASKS?
“Not all cloth masks are the same. There are cloth masks with 6-8 layers that are pretty decent if used correctly. As per studies, T-shirt single layer or double layer material is not enough for protection,” he said.
The doctor added that any surgical mask cannot guarantee complete protection. "Some surgical masks are not good enough; like the transparent ones. People wear them because they are comfortable. The rule of thumb should be: if your mask is too comfortable, it may not work well,” he added.
WHICH ONE TO USE?
"As per guidelines in many states in India, if you are treating a Covid-19 patient at home, you both should wear an N95 mask. So, nothing has really changed on how effective the mask is. It is better to wear the mask that protects you the most."
Dr Anand shared an interesting insight: he came in direct contact with 5,000 to 6,000 Covid patients, and has managed to evade the virus till date. So, we asked him which mask he has been using since the beginning of the pandemic. “I am convinced that masking works. I use N95 while meeting patients. At home, if I am picking a parcel at the door, I wear a 7-layer cloth mask. On the other hand, if I am outside, I always wear an N95 mask.”
MASK UP PROPERLY
Masks should be worn correctly. Dr Anand warned that if you are wearing an N95 mask that is loose and air can easily enter and move out, it is of no use.
IS DOUBLE MASKING REQUIRED?
During the Delta outbreak, double masking was a huge help. Dr Anand said, “Double masking is better than cloth masks but not as good as an N95 or a medical mask. If you are layering your mask, use both cloth mask and surgical mask together.”
WHAT ABOUT VACCINATED PEOPLE?
Dr Rajesh Chawla, Senior Consultant, Pulmonary and Critical Care at Indraprastha Apollo hospital said, “Masking helps prevent the transmission of infected droplets. So, if I am wearing a mask, it will protect people around me and vice versa. Any mask is better than no mask. Everyone - including vaccinated folk - should wear a mask; preferably a medical mask.”
With the Omicron threat looming large on us, mask up, wash your hands frequently, maintain social distancing and get vaccinated.