Suburban doctor says two-layer mask a good idea now that U.K. strain is here

  • Dr. Michael Bauer, pediatrician and medical director at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital, gets a COVID-19 vaccine.

    Dr. Michael Bauer, pediatrician and medical director at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital, gets a COVID-19 vaccine. Courtesy of Northwestern Medicine

Updated 2/9/2021 10:52 AM

With a case of the more infectious United Kingdom strain of COVID-19 diagnosed in Lake County and more expected, it's important to double down on face coverings, one expert advises.

That means putting on a mask with two layers that completely covers the wearer's nose and mouth, advised pediatrician Michael Bauer, Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital medical director.


"This virus is very smart," Bauer said. "We're in a war with it. It's going to fight back and push back."

Bauer said single-layer cloth masks "are not nearly as effective" as sturdier, closefitting masks -- an important consideration against a variant that is considered 50% more transmissible, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC projects the U.K. variant will be the dominant strain in the U.S. in March.

"Studies have shown two layers of a cloth-like material are better at filtering virus particles than one," Bauer said. "If you use a mask that has two layers built in -- a good cloth mask, or one like our surgical masks -- that provides a good level of protection."

"The second piece is that a mask is only as good as how you're wearing it. You need to have a good seal (over) your nose and mouth, and not let air escape out that would directly affect others," he said.

Asked about whether people should don two masks, Bauer recommended, "certainly it would not hurt. It could only add extra protection if somebody wants to double mask."

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If you wear a double-layer cloth mask over the disposable blue surgical ones, make sure it's kept clean, Bauer noted. "If it gets wets or moistened, especially if you're outside and it picks up water or humidity, that diminishes the effectiveness.

Lake County officials reported on Saturday that a resident who had traveled internationally contracted the U.K. variant after being in contact with a sick person while abroad. The resident quarantined after returning home.

"We expect to see more cases of these new variants in Lake County as they seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants," Dr. Sana Ahmed, medical epidemiologist for the Lake County Health Department, said Saturday in the news release.

Current vaccines are showing effectiveness against protecting individuals against severe illness from the U.K. strain, Bauer said.

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