Wisconsin doctors advise double masking during COVID-19 panel discussion

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) - The possibility of Wisconsin’s statewide mask mandate being overturned was just one of a number of topics discussed by nearly a dozen COVID-19 health experts during a panel discussion held Wednesday, Jan. 27. The discussion led by UW-Madison’s School of Medicine brought back experts who spoke on COVID-19 last January, before any person-to-person spread was ever detected in the U.S. 

Panelists reflected on the lessons they learned this past year and talked about where the pandemic is headed in 2021. They stressed that for now, masking is a serious part of controlling the spread.

“Does masking and distancing work? The answer is unequivocally yes—and in profound ways,” said Dr. Jon Temte, associate dean for Public Health at UW- Madison School of Medicine.

Wisconsin doctors expressed concern if the mask mandate were to be overturned, and stressed how well it works in containing spread of respiratory viruses like the flu.

“If masking is the price to pay for recovery to normal, we should be willing to pay that price,” said Dr. Nasia Safdar, medical director of Infection Control at UW Health.

Near the end of January—we virtually have seen no influenza in the state of Wisconsin,” added Dr. Temte.

Doctors say messaging about masking could have been better aligned when the pandemic began. Public health experts say mixed messaging between governments and organizations created a divide in the beginning that we still see today.

“We just didn’t get very consistent, clear transparent communication at the start—and we’ve been battling misinformation since,” said Ajay Sethi, PhD, Population Health Sciences, UW- Madison School of Medicine.

“2021 will give us a better idea of where things are going, but for now, masking remains a critical part of our interventions,” added Dr. Safdar.

With new COVID-19 variants out, Dr. Anthony Fauci has endorsed double masking even though the CDC has not issued official guidance on it.

“I think we probably do need to recommend sort of masks that are effective in preventing transmission,” Sethi adds. 

Panelists agree it doesn’t hurt to add an extra layer of protection. 

“The reality is two masks are always going to be better than one mask in terms of filtration,” says Sethi. “Some people who are using cloth masks that are triple layered with a filter in between I kind of consider that to be multiple masking too, it just happens to be one mask”

While there’s still more to be done looking ahead, scientists on the discussion say being able to achieve a vaccine rollout in less than one year has brought a sense of community between them. 

“This effort has led to a greater sense of global cooperation among scientists and I think we are seeing the results of that,” said Thomas Friedrich, PhD, Pathobiological Sciences, UW School of Veterinary Medicine.

Panelists also addressed what COVID-19 will look like in the future. Experts say it will be with us forever at this point, but it’ll be tough to know how much disease we’ll have seasonally.

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