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The Mast-Head: Double-Masking

Wed, 02/17/2021 - 18:10

Covid-19 test diagnoses have fallen to nearly none in East Hampton Town in the last week. Where two or more positive cases were found in each hamlet or village a day, now the figure might be zero for days at a time. I am closely aware of the figures, preparing the semi-daily reports The Star sends out by email.

This is not a moment for relaxed vigilance. The fall and winter spike in coronavirus numbers has been linked to family and friend get-togethers and travel beginning with Halloween, then Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas. The bulge has fallen as the effects of collectively letting down our guard wear off. But there may be plenty of viral difficulty still ahead.

Vaccine distribution has been slower than most would like it. President Biden said this week that there might be enough for the entire United States population by August. But the limited availability has not stopped people from searching frantically for doses, and at this time, patience and maintaining social distance remain important.

Looming, too, are more aggressive Covid-19 mutations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a large-scale study recently demonstrating clearly that “double-masking,” that is, wearing two masks when outside the home or around others, is highly effective in stopping transmission. Not all masks provide the same protection, the C.D.C. said, and layers stop more potentially infectious droplets from getting inside — or from escaping.

Now, the recommended practice is to wear a closely fitted cloth mask over a disposable surgical mask. The difference is huge — increasing protection from about 40 percent to above 90 percent.

Disposable masks are not made to be worn tightly and stacking one on top of another does not make it conform to the face any better. Another option, though less effective than the cloth outer mask, is to knot the ear loops of a three-ply disposable mask and tuck in extra material to improve its seal.

For reasons unknown to me, a friend of mine wears his single disposable mask upside down, with the metal nose wire under his chin. Every time he speaks, the mask slides down onto his neck, and he repeatedly has to pull it back up. Next time I see him, I’ll have to ask why.


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