By: Vishal Phakey, DO, Jefferson Health New Jersey
Proper masking guidelines have proven essential to our safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Finding the right fit, however, can be challenging.
Here are some tips to make the process easier – and effective.
Do stick to a surgical or cloth mask.
While N-95s and other medical-grade masks provide a higher level of protection, they are only recommended for healthcare professionals and other first responders. While “gaiter” masks have increased in popularity, some studies have questioned their effectiveness. The latest research seems to show that if they are made of cotton and triple layered, they can offer protection. Those made from polyester and spandex, however, aren’t effective in blocking coronavirus droplets.
Don’t wear a plastic face shield without a mask under it.
Face shields are great for providing extra protection (especially for the eyes); the key word here is extra ! They leave a large area of the face exposed and should only be used along with a face mask.
Do choose masks with extra layers/filters.
Studies have found that two to three layers can better prevent respiratory droplets from entering and leaving your mask. You can even add a filter. HEPA filters and coffee filters seem to work the best, while materials like tissues or paper towels should be avoided.
Don’t choose a loosely woven material.
The best fabrics are breathable, washable, and tightly woven. The sheerer the fabric, the less effective. The CDC recommends 100 percent cotton. Common household items that can be repurposed are t-shirts and bed sheets.
Do fit your mask properly.
According to the CDC, face masks should cover your face from the bridge of your nose to the bottom of your chin. They should be loose enough so you can breathe and talk, but snug enough to stay in place. It can help to tighten the ear loops to close any gaps. If you wear glasses and they fog up when you have a mask on, that means your mask is probably too loose, specifically around the nose. Try to create a tighter seal; you can use tape to do this. Above all else, make sure your mask fits comfortably. The more it irritates you, the more likely you are to tug at it, which further promotes the spread of germs.
Don’t wear your mask below your nose.
If you do this, you might as well take your mask off completely! It defeats the purpose to not have your nose and mouth both covered. Your nostrils must be fully covered to reduce the risk for infection.
Do clean cloth masks after every use.
Clean your cloth mask after every use. You can scrub it for about a minute with soap and warm water, or you can throw it right in with your regular laundry. Surgical masks cannot be laundered, but they can be reused a couple of times. To properly remove, grab only by the ear loops – not the front of the mask. To properly store, place in a brown paper lunch bag (these have good ventilation and will allow the mask to “air out”). If they’re visibly dirty or damaged, however, you should dispose of them.
Don’t store your masks in your car.
While this may seem like the most convenient place to keep them, it’s not the most sanitary. Viruses – not just coronavirus – can live on surfaces for up to 8 hours. You should avoid letting the front of your face mask touch different surfaces (such as the dashboard, center console, or seat) in your car. If you’re concerned about forgetting a mask, you should keep a new mask in a bag in your glove compartment.
Do stay mindful of social-distancing and high-risk individuals – indoors and outdoors!
When outdoors, you should always wear your mask in close proximity to people you don’t live with. However, if you can safely social distance from others at all times, it’s okay to take it off. When indoors, you should keep your mask on at all times if around people you don’t live with – especially if visiting an elderly loved one who may be considered high- risk.
Do stay consistent!
It’s important to wear your face mask properly each and every time you go out – not just occasionally. Even though it can be frustrating, it is a necessary, scientifically proven safety measure. Remember, we will get through this pandemic together.
Dr. Vishal Phakey is a Family Medicine physician with Jefferson Health New Jersey Primary & Specialty Care in Voorhees, NJ. To contact him, please call 1-844-542-2273.
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