Social distancing, increased hand washing, and wearing face masks have become part of the new normal in our era of Covid-19.
The types of face masks worn by the general public aren’t meant to protect the wearer, they are meant to help protect other people…especially if you are infected but asymptomatic. The exact number of people who test positive but do not exhibit symptoms is unclear, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research estimates anywhere from 10% – 70%
Face masks are designed to provide a barrier between your respiratory system and the outside world. They are meant to limit the amount of air-borne droplets that we all naturally produce when we speak, cough, sneeze, yell, sing, or breathe heavily. A recent laboratory study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, used a high-speed video where you can actually see the difference in the amount of droplets generated when saying a simple phrase with and without a mask (in this case a damp washcloth).
But unless you’re in a profession where wearing a face mask is part of your normal attire, most of us have donned them without really knowing how to wear them properly.
So here are a few tips, and a few of the no-no’s, to make wearing them more effective.
The most important part of wearing a face mask is to wear it correctly. Just because a mask looks great (if you’re gonna wear one, it might as well make a statement!), doesn’t mean that it’s the ideal mask for you.
The mask should completely cover both your nose and your mouth, extending down below the chin, but not so big that there are gaps at the edges. It should be tight enough not to slip, but not so tight that it makes you feel like you can’t breathe.
At the onset of this pandemic, disposable masks were like gold….hard to find and very expensive. However, now that supply has begun to catch up with demand, disposable masks are easier to find – both in stores and online. But disposable masks are just that…disposable. They are intended for a single use and should never be re-used.
Most people now opt for cloth masks. Like disposable masks, be sure they fit securely, cover your mouth and nose, and extend to below your chin with no open spaces on the side.
Ranging from a simple handmade mask to those made by high-end fashion icons, cloth masks are reusable and should be laundered after each use. Do not wear the same mask without washing it first. It can be thrown in with your other laundry but should be completely dried with high heat – a dryer, ironing, direct sunlight, or even in a 158º oven for at least 30 minutes.
Regardless of whether the mask is disposable or reusable, it’s important to be sure you put it on and take it off correctly. Wash your hands before you put it on initially, then before, as well as after, you remove it. Once it’s been worn, only handle it by the straps, do not pull it off from the front.
It’s also important that you don’t touch your face, a habit that we all have…even unconsciously. Researchers found that people touch their faces up to 23 times an hour. Touching your eyes, nose, and mouth are the easiest paths for the virus to enter the body. However, washing or sanitizing your hands thoroughly and often can limit surface-to-body contamination.
Unfortunately there is not yet an efficient, cost effective, and readily available method of determining if someone has the virus but is asymptomatic. Until then, social distancing, hand washing, and yes…face masks, will remain our most effective defense in slowing the spread of the highly contagious virus.