Tips for Proper Mask Wearing
The CDC offers up some simple, effective, and straight forward tips for wearing and caring for your face masks in the effort to prevent COVID19 infections (1):
- Wash your hands before putting on your mask.
- Wear your mask over your nose and mouth and secure it under your chin. (Not just the tip of your nose, not just the top of your chin, full coverage is what we’re going for!)
- Fit your mask snugly against the sides of your face. (Adjust to eliminate gaps!)
- Make sure you can breathe easily.
- When you take off your mask, handle it only by the ear loops or ties. (You don’t want to get any collected virus back on your hands!)
- Store your used mask safely to keep it clean between uses. (Zip sealed plastic bags work well.)
- Wash your cloth mask regularly, preferably in a washing machine. (Recommended after each use)
And yes, wearing a mask is one of the best things we can do to protect ourselves and others! Joseph G. Allen, director of the Healthy Buildings program at Harvard indicates that when you wear a mask, “you protect yourself; you protect others, you prevent yourself from touching your face.” (2)
Key factors like fit, fabrics, and size of coverage area all play a role in a mask’s effectiveness, but even if you can’t get your hands on an N95 mask, the gold standard in masks, don’t stress. It’s really interesting to know that when everyone wears a mask, the combined filtration efficiency increases! 3 There is a real cumulative effect.
And while wearing a mask is an inconvenience, we are all going to need to keep at it, at least for a while longer, well into 2021. That’s why it is important for us all to learn how to use a mask properly and to the best effectiveness. It should feel a little bit stuffy under there, that’s a good sign that you are doing it right. Don’t fidget with it, and don’t pull it under your nose or down to your chin. In the same respect, don’t let your chin hang out the bottom.
It’s also important to make sure the sides are snug against your face, you don’t want to have gaps were air, and virus particles, can flow in and out unfiltered. You want to wear it so that it comes up, close to the bridge of your nose, and all the way down over your chin, and under your chin. Tighten the ear straps to pull it snug to your cheeks. Remember, you don’t want gaps that can let particles in and out. (4)
Remember to put your mask on inside your car or inside your home or apartment before you go out into public spaces. Common areas, moving in and out of a store or a waiting room or elevator, poses more of a threat to exposure, so you don’t want to be donning your mask when you are inside these spaces! It would be better to do so before encountering potentially higher contamination areas.
New strains of COVID19 circulating have cause some experts to recommend layering up masks to provide additional protection. With the three new, highly contagious variants on the loose, wearing an extra layer of fabric or fiber-based mask will likely create a more effective physical barrier as we discussed above. The cumulative effect of the combined filtration efficiency.
Supporting research published in the journal Matters found that when a nylon layer is worn over a surgical-style mask, “it improves the fit and effectiveness of filtration of virus particles from a range of 53%-75% to up to 90%.” (5)
Double-masking is a good way to enhance the seal around your face. Gators and bandanas and other loose-fitting masks that offer the minimal protection can be layered under or over a surgical mask, thus creating a better coverage solution. Or two surgical masks can be layered together. Just be mindful that multiple layers can make breathing through the cloth more difficult. If you find that you are adjusting it constantly or more than usual, it might not be worth the tradeoff. The goal is to put on the mask, and then don’t touch it. Each time you touch your mask or your face you risk transferring contaminants from your hands.
Masks are just one layer of defense against the COVID virus. It is important to use them in combination with social distancing and hand washing. And follow the protocols outlined by the CDC for proper handling, frequent washing, and proper snug fit. Remember, any kind of mask is better than no mask. And doubling up, especially in light of the new strains of virus, sounds like a pretty good idea indeed. Stay safe, stay sane, and mask up!
2, 3 Masks Work. Really. We’ll Show You How - The New York Times (nytimes.com) www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/10/30/science/wear-mask-covid-particles-ul.html
4 How NOT to Wear a Mask - The New York Times (nytimes.com) www.nytimes.com/2020/04/08/well/live/coronavirus-face-mask-mistakes.html
5. Should you wear double masks? Some experts say yes (freep.com) www.freep.com/story/news/health/2021/01/31/double-masks-covid-19-coronavirus-variants/4278626001/