Nfld. & Labrador

How do you face COVID-19 variants? By upping your mask game

Double-masking is getting a lot of attention, but an infectious disease specialist says that's just one way to ramp up your defenses. We asked Dr. Lisa Barrett for her pro tips.

Dr. Lisa Barrett shares her pro tips for taking your mask game from a C or a D to an A+

Dr. Lisa Barrett is an infectious disease researcher and clinician at Dalhousie University. She grew up in Old Perlican, N.L., and lives in Halifax, N.S. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

After a year of the new normal, most people have gotten used to the basics: social distancing, hand washing and wearing a cloth mask.

But now that a more transmissible variant of the COVID-19 virus is spreading, some people want to start taking even more precautions. 

The idea of double-masking — literally, wearing two masks instead of one — is already gaining traction. But Dr. Lisa Barrett says that's just one of the ways to get more out of your mask.

Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden wears two masks as he arrives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Oct. 13, 2020. (AFP via Getty Images)

"The masking part is not just sort of important, but imperative now, that people go from a C or a D in their mask wearing, up to an A-plus game," said Barrett.

Barrett is an infectious disease researcher and clinician at Dalhousie University in Halifax. She grew up in Old Perlican, N.L., and trained with none other than Dr. Anthony Fauci at the U.S National Institutes of Health in Maryland.

Now that her home province has seen an explosion of cases caused by a more transmissible variant of COVID-19, Barrett says we can no longer afford to be a little lax in the mask department: it's time, she warns, to tighten up.

Here are three ways to do it.

Watch the video for Dr. Lisa Barrett's pro tips, and to see a neat way to tighten up the corners of your mask:

How to face COVID-19 variants: up your mask game

2 years ago
Duration 2:39
Dr. Lisa Barrett shares her pro tips for taking your mask game from a C or D to an A+.

Tip #1: Mask plus distance

"The best thing you can do is distance, plus a mask." said Barrett. "Because sometimes we put on our mask and we feel like we're completely protected. Not the case. The advice has always been, wear a mask and keep distance wherever you can."

Barrett says she's quite comfortable reminding anyone who gets too close that distancing is still important. "I'm not backing away from you because I don't like you, I'm just going to keep my six feet, a little closer to two metres these days. And that's really important, particularly inside, even when masked."

Tip #2: What about double-masking? 

"There's a lot of debate as to whether or not double masking is the key," she said. The idea is gaining some traction, but Barrett says the most important thing is to make sure your main mask is being worn properly.

"Before we go any further and add in two, three, four, five masks, none of them work unless they fit right." said Barrett. Pay special attention to the sides of your mask. The fabric should be tight to your face, not loose and bunched up, leaving little holes on the sides where particles can go in and out (Barrett has a pro tip for keeping those edges tight. It's a bit tricky, but check out the video above to see a demonstration).

Tip #3: One mask or two: It's up to you

Barrett says better masking (and maintaining distance at the same time) is our best strategy against the new variants. But don't let the debate around double-masking distract from what's really important: That everyone wears at least one mask well.

"Just don't yell at each other if one person's wearing a double mask and one person's not," said Dr. Barrett. "We need everyone to feel comfortable with their own personal level of protection."

In particular, Barrett says people with respiratory issues may find it difficult to wear two masks, each with several layers of fabric.

The bottom line? For Barrett, it's much more important to pay attention to the fit than the number of masks you're wearing.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Zach Goudie is a journalist and video producer with CBC in St. John's.