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Double up when wearing cloth face masks, public health advises

Two layers of masks made from cotton t-shirts are even more effective than medical masks for protection and breathability, according to University of Illinois researchers

As we move toward the “new normal” with the reopening of some businesses this week, you might want to consider doubling up when wearing cloth face masks, York Region’s medical officer of health advises.

If you can’t maintain a physical distance of at least two metres from other people, whether you’re out shopping for essentials or are in a workplace, Dr. Kurim Kurji said in a video update that a recent U.S. study found two layers of cloth masks are the best way to not only protect other individuals if you are infectious — and you may not know that if you are asymptomatic — but also to protect yourself.

“If you can’t avoid a crowded area, wear a mask,” he said.

The University of Illinois research team tested a variety of fabrics for use as non-medical cloth facial masks, and determined that “very breathable fabrics are a good choice, like common T-shirt materials.”

And when doubled in layers, the homemade cotton fabric masks can actually provide better protection than medical masks, which are best reserved for health-care workers, who come into direct contact with COVID-19 patients, the researchers concluded.

“Most common household fabrics, such as T-shirt material, have 40 per cent or higher droplet blocking when used as a single layer. In two layers, to our surprise, T-shirt fabric had a 98 per cent droplet blocking efficiency — exceeding that of the medical mask, while maintaining better breathability.”

“The net breathability of the two layers is much higher than the medical masks, too. In fact, the breathability of cotton T-shirt fabrics remains higher than a medical mask, even with three layers,” the study concluded.

As of May 1, all Illinois residents over age two must wear face masks when they can’t maintain a six-foot physical distance in public. 

You can find patterns and instructions for homemade masks here.

Dr. Kurji once again urged residents not to underestimate the coronavirus, adding that more than seven per cent of residents who have tested positive in York Region has died.

“The two most important things you can do to protect yourself is to physically distance yourself by at least two metres and wash your hands frequently,” he said.

Employers should ensure employees wear masks if they cannot physically distance, Kurji added, referencing the increasing number of workplace outbreaks in York Region.

“Employers, as they consider opening up, should pay particular attention to areas where they may be communal eating, and in meeting spaces, to ensure physical distancing is applied there,” he said.


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Debora Kelly

About the Author: Debora Kelly

Debora Kelly is NewmarketToday's editor. She is an award-winning journalist and communications professional who is passionate about building strong communities through engagement, advocacy and partnership.
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