Wearing the right face mask protects not only you, but everyone around you. Here's why.
With many establishments (including doctors' offices and hospitals) requiring a face mask to be worn and guidance around wearing a mask in public, it’s important to know which face masks are the right option for you — and which ones aren’t.
From homemade cloth face masks to N95 masks, here’s what you need to know.
How does a face mask work?
When worn correctly (covering both your mouth and your nose) and paired with proper handwashing, a face mask can help protect others from getting sick and you from spreading a virus.
A face mask can help protect the wearer from inhaling droplets that travel through the air. It also protects someone who may be carrying a virus from getting others sick. That’s why masks play an essential role in protection during the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 spreads like most respiratory viruses, including the flu or a cold, through:
- Droplets traveling through the air by coughing or sneezing
- Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
- Touching an object or surface with the virus on it
The best thing to do is wear a face mask anytime you leave your home. In fact, while we are still in the COVID-19 pandemic, many stores and businesses require customers to wear one to enter the establishment.
Masking when you visit the doctor
We’re requiring that everyone who visits our hospitals, clinics and ERs wear a mask, whether you’re a patient, a visitor or part of our staff. Wearing a mask helps protect others around you — and yourself — from the coronavirus.
In fact, all of our medical personnel are wearing masks and taking extra steps to protect our patients, communities and themselves. And we’re requiring that patients and visitors wear masks, too.
But not all masks are created equal — some are better for use by medical professionals, for example.
Know your masks
While they offer the most protection, an N95 mask should be reserved for frontline healthcare workers and others on the front lines. These are the people who are working closely to treat those with COVID-19, so protecting them from getting sick will help to slow or prevent the spread of the virus.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that N95 masks with a valve will not prevent you from spreading the virus to others if you are a carrier — and many carriers have no symptoms. While the valve apparatus will protect you from inhaling the virus, droplets will still enter the air whenever you exhale — which means you’ll be spreading your droplets through the air and on surfaces.
Surgical masks also offer some of the best protection, but if you don’t already have some — you do not need to buy any. These masks should also be saved for hospitals and healthcare providers to distribute to their patients and employees.
If you do have surgical masks on hand, know that they are single-use and should be disposed of after you wear them.
DIY cloth masks
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that everyone wear a cloth face mask. With plenty of tutorials online, you can make your own with items you have around your house.
The best part? They can be re-worn! All you need to do is handwash them, let them dry and wear them again.
Adults and children over the age of two should wear face masks, according to the CDC.
How to use a mask and protect yourself from COVID-19
Making sure your mask fits properly is just as important in choosing the right mask.
Every time you put on or remove your mask, wash your hands with soap and water, or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. When you put your mask on, it should come up over your nose, and it shouldn’t slide down when you talk.
There are plenty of ways you can protect yourself from getting sick, and from getting other sick:
- Wear your face mask whenever you go out to protect yourself and everyone around you.
- Practice social distancing. Don’t shake hands, avoid crowds and stay at least 6 feet away from others.
- Wash your hands — often. And for at least 20 seconds. Alcohol-based sanitizers and wipes are with at least 60% alcohol are good, too.
- Avoid touching your face. Especially your mouth, nose and eyes. Also, cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing to stop the spread of viruses, like COVID-19, that are spread through droplets.
- Keep surfaces clean and disinfected at your home, school and workplace.
- If you are sick, stay home from work or school, rest and drink lots of fluids.