Only need to wear a mask if you’re sick? Don’t need to social distance while masked? Nope — find out the facts behind these common myths about wearing face masks.
Since the coronavirus emerged, you’ve likely heard conflicting information around wearing a face covering. Our infectious diseases expert weighs in on five common masking myths we’re hearing.
Myth: Wearing a mask won’t stop the spread of COVID-19
When worn properly (covering the mouth and nose), face masks prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses. When you sneeze, cough or even talk, you release respiratory droplets that can cause viruses like COVID-19 to spread.
“Wearing a mask reduces the number of respiratory droplets that you might spread to others or that you might be exposed to,” says Dr. Stanley Martin, director of infectious diseases at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville. And that means less virus particles getting passed around.
Myth: If I’m healthy, I don't need to wear a mask
Because you can have coronavirus and be asymptomatic (meaning you don’t have symptoms but are infected), you can spread COVID-19 to others unknowingly. You can also have the virus well before you have symptoms.
“You can have COVID-19 and not know it,” says Dr. Martin. “When you contract the virus, you may not show symptoms for up to 14 days, which means you could be contagious to others you come into contact with. That’s why it’s important to wear a mask that covers your mouth and nose.” It’s key to remember that when you wear a mask, you’re protecting everyone — not just yourself.
Myth: Wearing a mask will lower my oxygen levels
Another common misconception we’re hearing is wearing a mask can trap carbon dioxide inside, causing your oxygen levels to drop.
“Carbon dioxide will not accumulate inside your mask,” says Dr. Martin. “Face coverings, including cloth masks, will not lower your oxygen levels.”
Myth: I can remove my mask when I’m alone in a public room, like at my doctor’s office
When you’re alone in a public space, cover your face to reduce your risk of getting sick — and getting others sick. This means masking up, even if you’re by yourself, in places like:
- Changing rooms
- Parking garages
- Stairwells and elevators
When you visit one of our facilities, whether it’s a clinic, Convenient Care or emergency room, you (and any visitors) will be required to wear a mask that fits snugly over your mouth and nose. This includes when you’re waiting for your provider to come into the exam room — even if you’re sitting by yourself. You’ll protect others who will enter the room from the potential spread of COVID-19.
Myth: I don’t need to practice social distancing when I wear a mask
Wearing a face mask is an effective tool to stop the spread of COVID-19, but it’s not the only tool. Social distancing also plays a key role in minimizing the spread. This means:
- Staying 6 feet apart from others
- Avoiding crowds
- Not shaking hands
In addition to practicing social distancing (also called physical distancing), there are plenty of other ways to protect yourself against coronavirus. These include:
- Washing your hands — often. And for at least 20 seconds. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers and wipes with at least 60% alcohol are good, too.
- Avoiding touching your face. Especially your mouth, nose and eyes.
- Covering your mouth and nose with the crook of your elbow when coughing and sneezing.
- Keeping surfaces clean and disinfected at your home, school and workplace.
- Staying home from work or school if you’re not feeling well, resting and drinking lots of fluids.
Don’t forget your mask
Just like you’d be sure to bring your keys or phone, don’t forget to grab your mask before you head out.
“Wearing a mask helps reduce the spread of COVID-19,” reminds Dr. Martin. “Remember: ‘My mask protects you; your mask protects me.’”