Should UVM be double masking?
March 4, 2021
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise on campus, many students can be seen wearing two masks to keep themselves safe.
A Feb. 10 report from the CDC found that wearing a disposable mask underneath a cloth mask increases protection from the virus. The study tested comfort and protection levels of both double masking and looping the strings tighter on procedural masks.
Many students and staff have adopted one, if not both, of these practices, including Dr. Tim Lahey. As an infectious disease physician and the director of clinical ethics at the UVM Medical Center, as well as a professor at UVM’s Larner College of Medicine, Dr. Lahey has to stay up to date on CDC recommendations.
He said the main takeaway of the CDC’s new report is that there are multiple ways to wear a mask that limit the amount of air leaking out.
“The thing that has hit the news more is the one option to have two masks: a cloth mask or a disposable procedure mask covered by another cloth mask,” Lahey said.“The idea is to find a sweet spot between prevention of transmission and comfort.”
According to Lahey, there are three reasons for these new masking recommendations: the CDC’s new study on mask effectiveness, more transmissible COVID-19 strains, and President Biden’s recent inauguration.
“The CDC is now overseen by a different administration, and their ability to communicate is less restricted. They’re partly just giving clarification that I suspect they hadn’t had the opportunity to do,” Lahey said.
Lahey said one of the biggest takeaways from the study is the clarification that context matters.
“If you’re outside walking downtown and you’re not that close to other people, I think it makes sense to—obviously wear a mask that fits—but to be perhaps a little bit less aggressive about safety than if you were inside grocery shopping in a crowded grocery store and needing a bit higher level of protection,” Lahey said.
Despite the updated CDC guidance, UVM does not currently require double masking.
“We are not recommending or requiring double masking on campus. We are providing the information, both the benefits and the risks, so that individuals can make an informed choice,” said UVM spokesperson, Enrique Corredera, in an email to the Cynic.
Double masking, defined by UVM as a cloth mask on top of a disposable one, is listed under UVM’s Return to Campus plan as an option, along with its potential pros and cons.
“Double masking is not generally required at UVM but you can choose to double mask,” the website states. “If you decide to double mask, please follow the recommendations outlined by the CDC and make sure your double mask does not restrict your breathing or interfere with your vision.”
UVM Junior, Porter Awad, said he usually chooses to wear one mask when he goes out, although he sometimes adds a neck gaiter because it helps with the Burlington winters.
“I usually have the neck gaiter because it’s kind of cold outside,” Awad said. “So, I’ll keep it down if I’m outside, and then as I go inside I’ll pull it up.”
Double masking is still a fairly new thing, and he admits that he is still a bit new to the idea.
“I’ve just seen people doing it. I’m assuming it’s better than single masking,” Awad said.
Since coming back to campus, sophomore Althea Deschenes said she has decided to start making a habit of double masking.
“I read articles about how it’s a good idea, and I agree that it’s a good idea because not all masks are the same and you might as well be careful,” Deschenes said.
Whether or not Deschenes wears two masks is largely dependent on how crowded the location will be and how long she will be there for.
“It kind of depends on the situation. If I’m running to the common room to fill up my water bottle, I’ll just throw on one,” Deschenes said. “But if I’m coming to the Davis Center or going to the dining hall I’ll put on two.”
From her perspective, beating COVID-19 is all about being able to adapt.
“The coronavirus is changing and how it’s spreading is changing with the mutations, and so I feel like the way we protect ourselves from COVID should also change with that,” Deschenes said.
Although UVM doesn’t require wearing two masks, Howe Library employee Clinton Bryant said that many library staff members have been double masking since the fall semester due to the increase in Howe’s operating hours.
“I personally began double-masking when the library started closing at ten o’clock last semester. I decided the amount of possible exposure with the increased hours meant that I should probably consider enhanced protection,” Bryant stated in an email to the Cynic.
According to Bryant, double masking every day for long periods of time starts to add up. The number of masks required to adequately protect a staff member during an average shift presents not only a financial cost, but there is also a large degree of comfort that is sacrificed as well, Bryan said.
“Obviously, employees must wear masks at all times. This gets to be really tough for us because we work long shifts and wearing masks for seven hours is just plain painful and uncomfortable. That being said, most of the staff [at the Howe Library] double mask,” Bryant said.
At the end of the day, they do this in order to protect themselves, their families, and every single person that passes through the library during the day, said Bryant.
“I think students should double mask if at all possible. It’s not only about your health or the likelihood of you getting seriously ill, it’s about our entire community,” Bryant said.