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Wearing Masks: What You Need to Know

July 18, 2020
Wearing Masks: What You Need to Know - COVID-19 - Lark Health

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The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Americans to reconsider nearly every aspect of daily life. For many, avoiding the disease and preventing its spread have become priorities when making decisions such as which family and friends to see, how to get groceries, and whether to send children to childcare and school or keep them at home.

Masks are another sign of COVID-19, and an increasingly hot-button issue. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) supports using face coverings due to recent studies that suggest that it is effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19 [1]. This is what to know about why leading experts recommend masks, and when and how to wear them. Plus...some mask etiquette for this groundbreaking period in history.

Why Masks Can Reduce COVID-19 Spread

Masks appear to work, at least according to mounting evidence cited by the CDC and others [2]. The virus can travel via respiratory droplets that people expel from their nose and mouth when breathing, talking, and singing. The CDC explains that a cloth face mask can reduce the spread of these droplets and help prevent them from reaching others at infectious levels [3]. This means that wearing a mask helps protect others from catching COVID-19 from a potentially sick mask wearer.

Early word on the street was that masks do not protect the wearer, but that does not seem to be the case. In fact, according to UC Davis, wearing a mask can reduce your own risk of infection by 65% [4].

The coronavirus is still new, but researchers are already looking at how it can spread and the potential role of masks in slowing spread. These are a few recent results summarized by the CDC and researchers at UC San Francisco.

  • Across 198 countries, those with "cultural norms or government policies favoring mask-wearing had lower death rates."
  • In one case study of a man with COVID-19 who wore a face mask, nobody else on the flight got sick. In another case study of two hairdressers who wore masks while sick with COVID-19, none of their clients got sick.
  • COVID-19 growth rates have been found to decrease after implementing mask mandates.

When to Wear a Mask

"CDC recommends all people 2 years of age and older wear a cloth face covering in public settings and when around people who don't live in your household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain."[5] Very young children, people with trouble breathing, and people who may be unable to remove their mask on their own do not need to wear masks.

Places to wear masks can include on public transportation, in grocery stores and restaurants, and on sidewalks or in crowded parks. It may also mean wearing a mask when visiting a friend in the front yard or when a child is having a playdate with a child from a different family.

Regulations and guidelines vary by state, city, and county, so it is best to check frequently on the rules for your specific location. They change often, so stay tuned to the news or even call ahead to your destination if you are not sure if masks are required. Even if they are not required, the benefits of mask-wearing hold true and it can be worth your while to wear one.

Types of Masks

Though N95 masks are coveted by the medical community, they are not actually the best ones for community members to wear in daily living. That is because these and other masks with valves protect only the wearer. If the wearer is sick, these masks do not prevent the spread of COVID-19 to other people.

You can buy cloth masks in stores or online, or sew your own. You can also use a bandanna or T-shirt for a mask without any need to sew [6].

Using Masks Properly

Paying attention to a few details can make masks more effective. These tips can help keep yourself and others safe.

  • Both the nose and mouth should be covered.
  • It is important to resist the urge to pull down the mask so you can talk more clearly or easily.
  • Hands should be washed or sanitized before and after touching the mask.
  • Reusable masks should be washed between uses.
  • Once removed, a mask should not be worn again until it has been disinfected.

Masks vs. Social Distancing

Experts disagree on whether it is more important to wear a face covering or to practice social distancing. What they do agree on is that both are critical for slowing the spread of COVID-19. According to UC Davis [7], "social distancing reduces the risk of transmitting the virus by 90 percent, and wearing masks decreases the risk by 65 percent."

As a reminder, social distancing includes [8]:

  • Staying at least 6 feet apart from people who are not from your household.
  • Avoiding large gatherings when you will not be able to easily maintain a 6-foot distance from others.
  • Going to stores only when necessary for household essentials, and maintaining physical distance when shopping and while waiting in line.

Mask Etiquette

Since masks are becoming part of the culture, observing good mask etiquette may be a wise move. It is not complicated! Following local rules and guidelines is a good way to make other people feel safer around you, and wearing a mask whenever you are unsure is a good strategy, too.

There have been several viral videos recently showing people getting angry, aggressive, or even violent over the use of face masks. Following rules and guidelines can help you avoid a dangerous or embarrassing encounter. If ever you are in a situation that worries you, such as if someone will not wear a mask and is making you feel vulnerable to COVID-19, you can always step away or leave.

If you can't wear a mask, you might want to get a doctor's note or have some sort of documentation about your condition. That way, if explaining it isn't enough, you can avoid a potentially heated or even violent confrontation by someone who feels threatened by your lack of mask, and it can prevent you from being evicted from stores which require customers to wear masks.

Masks may not be the fashion item you had been dreaming of for 2020, but all of 2020 may be different than what you had envisioned! Wearing masks may save lives, and they may be required where you live, so it makes sense to learn about them and get ready to wear them, if you are not already doing so. Stay well and do your part to keep others well!

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