The coronavirus pandemic has made the practice of wearing a face mask in public commonplace. And, as cities and states across the U.S. begin to reopen, many require that people wear face masks or coverings in various communal settings, such as grocery stores and pharmacies.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) currently recommends that Americans wear face coverings in “public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”
Experts agree with the CDC’s guidance. “Wearing a mask when out in public is a critical part to reducing the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19,” says infectious disease epidemiology and public health ethics expert Lisa M. Lee, Ph.D., research professor at Virginia Tech.
Wearing a mask disrupts the distance virus-containing droplets can travel from the mouths and noses of infected people. (These droplets can travel six to 14 feet, Lee says.)
“Since many—maybe even most—people who have the virus do not have symptoms, we might not even know that we are exhaling the virus onto those around us,” explains Lee. Wearing a mask helps reduce the unintentional spread of coronavirus.
But how do you select the right mask and wear it properly? Keep the following best practices in mind as you mask up.
1. Consider the material of your face covering
For most people, a cloth mask or face covering works just fine—as long as it’s made of the right material.
“The material should be woven tightly enough to keep the light out when you hold it up to a window—and a double layer is best,” says Lee.
If you’re DIY-ing your mask, the best material combination seems to be a combination of cotton and silk or chiffon, which an April 2020 American Chemical Society study found to filter out viral aerosol particles.
2. Make sure your mask covers your nose
Lots of people seem to be walking around with masks covering just their mouths—but this is not proper protocol.
“The most important thing about a mask is that it covers both your nose and mouth—from the bridge of your nose to underneath your chin,” says Lee. (Remember, coronavirus-containing droplets are released from both the mouth and the nose, so keeping both completely covered is crucial.)
3. Keep your mask snug
Another must when it comes to mask fit: that it sits snugly on your face. “Avoid open gaps around your cheeks or under your eyes,” says Lee. This, too, just increases the ability of droplets you exhale to escape the mask to the air around you.
4. Clean your mask after every use
If you wear a cloth face covering, you should clean it after every use, Lee says. If you can, have a few on-hand so that you can alternate and have a clean option available while you wash others.
The CDC recommends washing cloth face coverings with regular detergent and warm or hot water in the washing machine. If washing by hand, they recommend soaking your face covering in a bleach solution (five tablespoons of bleach per gallon of room-temperature water) for five minutes, then rinsing it with cool or room-temperature water.
5. Keep your glasses from fogging up with a nose bridge
When warm breath escapes your mask just under your glasses, it can make your lenses fog up. The best way to avoid this, Lee says, is to attach a flexible nose piece to your mask that you can shape to the bridge of your nose.
“I made several masks for my family and sewed in the little piece of plastic strip-covered wire from a bag of coffee grounds (the piece that allows you to re-close the bag),” says Dr. Lee. “We can each mold it to the shape of the bridge of our nose to keep the warm air from fogging up our glasses.”
You might also try pinning the top of your cloth face-covering beneath the bridge of your glasses to close the gap around your nose.
6. Wear your mask if exercising near others
Anyone who’s run with a mask on can tell you that the extra gear can restrict airflow in and out of your nose and mouth, and make exercise feel more difficult.
Luckily, “if you are exercising outside when there are no others around, a mask is unnecessary,” says Lee. “If others are around (closer than 15 feet), though, wearing a mask is important.” The reason: The harder you breathe, the farther the droplets you exhale will travel.
The general rule of thumb: If you can’t stay at least 15 feet away from others, wear a mask.
People with health conditions like asthma or other respiratory issues, or high blood pressure or heart problems, may have an especially difficult time exercising with a mask on, Lee says. If you’re concerned about your ability to exercise with a mask, check in with your healthcare provider—and consider sticking to workouts you can do from home for now.
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