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One mask or two? Hawaii health officials say one multi-layered mask is sufficient

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One mask or two?

Hawaii health officials do not officially recommend double masking, even with the presence of new SARS-CoV-2 variants in the Aloha state, including the Denmark L452R variant confirmed last month, and the more transmissible B1.1.7 variant, also known as the UK variant, confirmed today.

“I really still would advise people to stick to one high-quality mask, and the reason why is we want to keep things simple,” said acting state Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble in a statement prior to today’s announcement. “When you start trying to manage two masks instead of one you actually can — in the complexity of trying to get your second mask on — or remembering which mask is over and under – you can actually end up contaminating yourself.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has offered no formal recommendation on wearing two masks.

The CDC, however, recommends wearing a cloth mask made with two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric that completely cover one’s nose and mouth and fits snugly against the sides of one’s face.

More conversations and questions about whether or not one should double up on face masks, however, have been occurring nationally, as news of more contagious variants spreading across the nation are confirmed.

In Honolulu County, where the mask wearing rate as of Jan. 17 was at 87%< according to Hawaii’s COVID-19 dashboard, some people can be spotted at the grocery store or in public wearing two masks.

Dr. Kemble, however, said she advises wearing one, good-quality mask with two or more layers rather than grappling with two masks, and the risk of contamination during the process of putting them on and taking them off.

“So my guidance is stick to one mask, do it right,” she said. “You do want a mask that has two cloth layers because that will provide better protection, but better to have one good quality mask than to try to manage two at once.”

Similarly, Dr. Elizabeth Char, state Health Department director, said during a Spotlight Hawaii conversation earlier this week, that one mask should be enough.

“I think the key is to wear a mask, and we want something that has several layers so that it filters a little better and is more protective but it’s a trade-off because if you double mask, it’s a little bit harder to breathe through,” said Char. “So if you get into a situation where you then can’t breathe and you’re pulling the mask off that sort of defeats the purpose.”

She said a cloth mask with at least two to three layers that fits well, and is worn over both the nose and mouth, is a good strategy.

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