Should I Wear A Mask?
June 26, 2020
"People wearing face masks"
As regulations loosen and our lives start up again, COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere. That’s why we compiled information on masks to help you keep yourself and others safe.
It can be hard to keep up with current guidelines as research progresses. Early on, we heard calls to stop buying masks and to save them for healthcare workers. Now, we are hearing the opposite. What does this mean?
Currently, we are recommended to wear masks in public, especially when it’s hard to consistently keep a 6-foot distance from others (ie. while shopping), or in other higher risk situations. They protect the wearer from contracting COVID and also from spreading it since people can often have the virus without showing symptoms or knowing. However, masks are not recommended for children under the age of 2 years or those with trouble breathing.
Not all masks are created equal. N95 respirators are the gold standard. They make a near-seal with your face and filter out very small particles. They may be hard to find if they are being reserved for healthcare workers who need them the most. Cloth masks and surgical masks aren’t held to the same stringent standards as N95 masks but they are easy to come across and more than adequate for general use.
Your mask working properly depends on two criteria. Firstly, in addition to covering both your mouth and nose, the mask needs to fit tightly so that air goes through the mask and not between the cracks. You can minimize cracks and gaps by having a cloth mask that can stretch to fit your face better or by using the wire bridge on a surgical mask to shape it to your nose. Secondly, the mask’s material needs to be able to filter particles well. Medical masks are effective because they have special filter material. It is recommended that your cloth mask use at least 2 layers of tightly-woven fabric, and if it has a flap, you can also insert a filter such as a paper towel for increased protection.
It’s important to also follow good practices when wearing and reusing masks. After using your mask for the day, it should be treated as a potential hotbed of infected particles. Avoid sharing your mask and wash your hands after touching or removing it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that cloth face coverings can be washed using detergent and with the rest of your laundry on as warm of a cycle as is appropriate. Medical masks are generally meant to be disposable but it may be possible to reuse them if they aren’t visibly soiled. Don’t throw them in the laundry like a cloth mask because that can damage the filter. Instead, you can put a medical mask in a breathable container such as a paper bag to air-dry for at least a few days or longer and cycle through several other masks in the meanwhile.
We still need to practice good hygiene and physical distancing. A mask should not be a carte blanche to flout other practices such as handwashing and keeping 6 feet from others due to a false sense of security. Each measure is but part of the larger solution to keep ourselves, loved ones, and others safe.
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