Mask wearing is an essential part of how you can protect yourself and others from COVID-19. But it isn’t enough by itself. It needs to be used in combination with other forms of protection and not be seen as a cure-all.
And for your mask to do its job correctly, you need to know how to wear and care for it. Read on for all the details!
Why Wear a Mask
Mask wearing makes good sense when you are near other people who are outside your social bubble. A mask cuts the chance of the disease being passed on.
Currently, the CDC recommends homemade masks when entering potentially crowded areas, shops , etc.
If your work in essential industries exposes you to people in close quarters, wear a mask for your protection and theirs. If you or others are asymptomatic and contagious, masks reduce the spread of disease. If you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, or have been diagnosed, wearing a mask protects others.
Masks are highly recommended for family members who need to care for someone who is ill–ideally both the patient and caretaker should have a mask.
If you are older than 65, especially if you are vulnerable due to another health condition, wearing a mask when in public is highly recommended.
Note: Cloth face coverings should not be placed on:
- Babies and children younger than 2 years old
- Anyone who has trouble breathing or is unconscious
- Anyone who is incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the cloth face covering without assistance
Cloth face coverings protect other people in case the wearer is unknowingly infected but does not have symptoms. They also protect to the person who is wearing them.
For your Mask to be Effective, you must know how to use it and dispose of or clean it properly
If worn incorrectly, the mask may end up contaminating you more than not wearing a mask at all. Do not cut holes the mask to make breathing easier–effective masks might feel uncomfortable.
If you don’t wear a mask correctly, it defeats the purpose of wearing a mask!
How do I safely remove my mask?
Take off the mask using the ear loops, pull away from face, and discard it in a lidded trash can without touching the front of the mask.
Remove mask using ear loops, pull away from face, and put in a separate laundry bin without touching the front of the mask.
Wash your hands immediately using soap and water.
Should I clean my surgical or N95 mask?
Avoid washing or sterilizing any part of surgical masks using water, alcohol, dish-washing solution, hand wash, soap or any kind of detergent. If the outer and inner layer of the surgical mask is damaged, it loses its filtration and water-resistant functions.
N95 Respirator Masks
Washing these masks with soap and water is much worse than natural aging. Washing decreases particle capture by 21%. Cleaning with rubbing alcohol reduced effectiveness by 37%.
How do I Safely Care for my Cloth Mask?
In trying to clean a mask, you may contaminate yourself and your home, so caution is good!
Make or purchase multiple cloth masks and rotate them.
You should not reuse a homemade mask without washing it first.
Keep your used masks in a separate laundry bin. Place a washable or disposable liner in that laundry bin so that you can either launder it or throw it away after you remove the dirty masks. Wash the masks with hot water and your regular detergent. Bleach or color-safe bleach may help inactivate viral microbes in the wash.
Drying your masks in the dryer may be better than hanging the clothes to dry because the heat may also help inactivate any viral microbes. Dry fabrics are less likely to transfer germs than wet ones.
How effective are different kinds of masks?
The three major kinds of masks are homemade, surgical, and N95s.
Studies have shown that homemade masks effectively reduce COVID-19 transmission. And they actually seem to get more effective after being worn for several hours!
N95 Masks are in short supply for healthcare workers, who need them to be able to safely do their jobs and take care of us.
Do not purchase N95 masks for routine use at home or when out shopping.
There is no added advantage in wearing N95s in these contexts. For the protection of our healthcare workers, do not stockpile these masks.
Which masks offer little protection?
There are a variety of other mask-like face coverings that people have tried. Some are more effective than others.
One study showed that of the 14 masks tested, neck fleeces, also called gaiter masks often used by runners, were the least effective. In fact, wearing a fleece mask resulted in a higher number of respiratory droplets because the material seemed to break down larger droplets into smaller particles that are more easily carried away with air. If you are going to wear a gaiter, double it to approximate the effectiveness of a cotton mask.
Folded bandanas and knitted masks also performed poorly and did not offer much protection.
Common Mask Mistakes
- Less care with physical distancing recommendations when wearing a mask. Six feet of physical distancing is still important even when wearing a mask.
- Touching your mask and your face often.
- Adjusting the mask and taking it on and off frequently. This may expose you to the virus more as you touch your contaminated mask and face more often.
- Wearing the mask with your nose exposed.
DO NOT USE Face Masks with Valves
One-way front valve industrial masks were designed for fire fighters and for those engaged in sanding, sweeping dust, and working on projects that dispense small particles into the air.
One-way valves filter air breathed in, however the air going out is unfiltered.
If you wear a valved mask you risk spreading the coronavirus to others through infected droplets.
Some masks with valves may actually propel your germs further. Masks with valves may look more high-tech, but they do not protect others in the community. Masks with valves may also give people you come in contact with a false sense of security if they think they are better than other kind of masks.