COVID-19 has taken the world by storm since its emergence in late 2019. From Zoom calls and social distancing to cleaning supply shortages, the world has seen so many changes in the past few months. One of the biggest changes is the emergence of face masks. Dubbed as one of the best measures to prevent the spread of the virus, face masks went from rarely being seen outside of a hospital to a necessity for all when leaving the house. This change has also brought growing pains. This article seeks to clear up some common misconceptions about masks and share important information about them to keep you, your family, and your community safe.
Why is everyone wearing face masks? How do masks help stop the spread of coronavirus?
Currently, the WHO is recommending people wear masks or cloth facial coverings in public to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Masks help reduce the spread because they serve as a barrier preventing respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people. Coronavirus is mostly spread through these respiratory droplets, so wearing masks is greatly important in not only protecting yourself from those around you but also protecting those around you.
When should I wear a face mask?
Coronavirus is most commonly spread when people are in close contact with each other and respiratory droplets travel. For this reason, it is incredibly important that whenever you cannot be socially distanced with someone outside your household, you are both wearing masks. In addition, you should wear a mask whenever in indoor public places or when outdoors in public and social distancing cannot be maintained. Remember, in various parts of the world, wearing masks in public is required, and you will be fined if you are found without wearing one. This is also true for certain stores; many stores require customers to wear masks when inside, and customers will be kicked out or denied entry if they refuse to comply.
Who should wear a mask?
In general, the WHO recommends that everyone wears a mask when in busy public places or when around people outside of your household and social distancing cannot be maintained. unless you fall into one of the following exemptions. However, the CDC cites that there are some populations who should not wear masks. First, Children two years and younger should NOT wear a mask for a couple of reasons. First, their airways are smaller, so they have more trouble breathing through a mask and are more likely to suffocate. If infants are having trouble breathing with a mask, they might be unable to take it off themselves or unable to communicate their trouble breathing. Finally, older infants and toddlers are likely to continuously try to take the mask off or play with it, defeating the purpose of wearing a mask altogether. For similar reasons, people over two that have trouble breathing due to a medical condition and anyone cannot take off a mask by themselves (whether that’s due to unconsciousness, incapacitation, or other circumstance) should also NOT wear a mask. The CDC also recognizes that in certain instances, wearing a mask is not feasible. Some examples include while exercising when the mask could possibly get wet, if younger children are unable to wear a mask properly for extended periods of time, or if those hard-of-hearing rely on lip reading for communication.
If those around me are wearing face masks, why does it matter if I wear one?
One of the most common misconceptions about face masks is that they only protect the wearer. Actually, face masks are most helpful in protecting those around you by preventing your larger respiratory droplets from aerosolizing and coming into contact with those around you. While you personally may feel comfortable “risking it” and not wearing a mask, please consider those around you, especially vulnerable populations. People above the age of 60 and those immunocompromised are at a higher risk of becoming severely ill with coronavirus and cannot afford the risk. In order to protect these populations, it is important that everyone masks up, if not for their own protection then for these populations.
If I do not feel sick, why should I wear a mask?
Masks are important to prevent the respiratory droplets of those with coronavirus from spreading to others, so it is incredibly important that anyone exhibiting symptoms wears a mask. However, it is also important that those not feeling sick wear masks too because of two different scenarios. First, coronavirus has an incubation period of up to 14 days, meaning that while it is most common for people to show symptoms five days after being infected, it may take up to 14 days. In this period, you can still spread the coronavirus to others without feeling sick or knowing you are infected. Also, people can become asymptomatic carriers of coronavirus. These people are infected with coronavirus and can still spread the virus, but they never exhibit any symptoms. For this reason, it is paramount that you wear a mask when in public even if you do not feel sick.
What is the proper way to wear a mask?
It is exceedingly important that you wear a proper mask in the right way to maximize its effectiveness and protect others. First, make sure that your mask covers your nose, mouth, and chin at all times to contain droplets. It should fit tightly against your face, but still be comfortable so that you are not constantly adjusting it in public. Also, make sure that the mask is not gaping on the sides from being too big; this leaves you exposed and prevents the mask from doing its job fully. When taking your mask off, remember to remove it by the ear loops and not the front of the mask and that is the part of your mask that will most likely be contaminated.
What are the different types of masks available? Which one should I wear?
There are many different types of masks and facial coverings available. The most protective face masks are medical-grade N99 and N95 masks (with 99% and 95% efficiency respectively). These masks offer the most protection because they tightly seal around your nose and mouth and filter all air that comes through it. However, these masks are currently in short supply in different parts of the world, so please consider local PPE supplies if using one of these face masks. The same goes for surgical masks which are considered the second safest option. One DIY alternative to surgical masks are vacuum cleaner bags masks, which insert vacuum cleaner bags into a cloth mask to help filter out particles. Hybrid masks, or masks with a layer of cotton and a layer of additional fabric, or three-layered cotton or silk masks are also highly protective, with some studies indicating that these masks may be as protective as medical-grade masks. While using tea towels and antimicrobial pillowcases are not ideal materials for facial coverings, they are better than using a single layer of cotton which is better than using a single-layer paper mask. One thing to keep in mind is a recent study by Duke found that speaking with neck gaiters actually produced more particles than when speaking without a mask. Other than that exception, please remember that any face covering is better than nothing! As a rule of thumb, try to use a multi-layer fabric mask for everyday use to allow medical professionals and other high-risk populations to use the more protective equipment. If you want more information, click here for Duke’s recent study on mask effectiveness.
How do I use and treat my mask?
As a rule of thumb, you should “treat your face mask like your underwear.” First, you are never dressed for the public if you are not wearing one. Make sure to wear one in all shared spaces out of respect for others and only take it off when at home or in a private place. When you are in public, do not touch it or adjust it, and do not lend your mask to others. Before you leave, make sure your mask is tight to your face but still comfortable. Lastly, make sure you keep it clean and wash it daily/after each use.
How should I store my mask?
As shown above, experts recommend that cloth masks are washed after every use, and medical masks are disposed of after each use or after four hours. Sometimes these practices are not feasible. If not, please consider practicing proper mask hygiene instead of placing a mask on any common surface in your home. First, fold the mask in half so that the outside of the mask is touching. Experts recommend that you then place your mask in a paper bag until it is to be reused. Make sure that you use a new paper bag each time you store your mask.
Do I have to wear a mask when flying?
Almost every airline around the world is requiring its passengers to wear masks when in the air, and those that do not require masks recommend them. Only some airlines will have face masks available upon request for customers, so you should wear your own face mask while traveling. If passengers refuse to wear a mask, some airlines will deny them boarding and/or place them on their no-fly list for an indefinite period of time. If you plan on flying during the pandemic, make sure you review your airlines mask and current flying policies as many of them have changed to increase hygiene during this time.
Face mask tips and tricks:
If your ears are sore from wearing a mask for too long…
- Use some buttons and an old headband or hat! Sew the buttons onto the headband/hat in a spot close to your ears. This way, you can fasten the ear loops on your mask to buttons instead of your ears.
- Style your hair into two high side buns! If you have long hair, you can style it into two high buns and attach your mask ear loops onto each bun.
- Break out some bobby pins! Place a bobby pin onto each ear loop and pin it to your hair.
- Make your own “ear savers!” Ear savers are pieces of fabric with two buttons that attach to your mask and loop behind your head. You can either buy them online or make your own using this template.
If your mask is gaping/too big…
- Criss-cross the ear loops! When putting on your mask, flip one or both of the ear loops to make the mask fit closer to your face.
- Tie the sides of your mask into knots! Click here for a tutorial video.
- Use some bobby pins! You can use the same trick talked about above to use a big mask as you can fasten the bobby pins so that your mask fits closely to your face.
If your glasses fog up when wearing a mask…
- Pick up some tape! Glass fogs up when warm air hits a cooler surface and condensation forms. When breathing with a mask, the warm air escapes the top of the mask and hits your glasses. One of the easiest ways to keep your breath from escaping is by taping your mask to the bridge of your nose and your cheeks with athletic grade tape or masking tape. Just be careful that the tape you use will not pull off your skin or give you an allergic reaction.
- Look into purchasing cloth masks with a bendable wire! Another great way to keep the warm air from escaping is by improving the fit of your mask. These masks have a built-in wire that allows you to closely fit your mask over the bridge of your nose. If you already have a mask without a wire, you can add a pipe cleaner or metal twist for a similar effect.
- Add a tissue! Fold and place a tissue at the bridge of your nose under the mask. The tissue will help absorb some of the moisture from your breath instead of fogging up your glasses.
- Wash your glasses with dish soap! The ingredients from dish soap form a thin film that helps prevent fogging.
- Try readjusting the fit of your mask! If you can fix your mask so that it fits closer to your face (using some of the tricks listed above), you will contain more of your breath and help prevent some fogging.
If you are having trouble getting your kid to wear a mask…
- Let them pick out their own mask! Try letting your child pick out the fabric or decorations for their masks to make masks more fun. It is even okay to decorate cloth masks (not surgical masks) as long as it doesn’t impact the integrity of the mask.
- Mask up yourself! One of the best ways to help your child wear a mask is to be a mask role model yourself and explain to them the importance of wearing one.
- Practice wearing masks! Make sure you instruct your child on the proper procedure to wear a mask, including hand washing and disposal, at home where the stakes are low. Start by having them wear a mask for a couple of minutes doing fun activities, and gradually increase the amount of time they are wearing a mask.
- Make a matching mask for their stuffed animal! Find some materials around the house and help them make a mask for their stuffed animals, dolls, or other toys! This will normalize masks and give them a “mask buddy.”
- Set up a plan with rewards! Make sure your entire family has a masking plan when going out. This way, you can set up fun goals or rewards for your kid if they do well wearing masks.
- Make mask-wearing more comfortable! Use some of the tips listed above such as buttoned headbands/hats to help make masks more comfortable so your child will be less likely to constantly pick at their mask.
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