How to Maximize the Efficacy of Your Face Mask During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Wearing a mask whenever you leave your home isn't just helpful in stopping the spread of the coronavirus—in some places, it's a requirement. "While there may be some protection from contracting the coronavirus by wearing cloth masks, the biggest benefit is when the mask is worn by someone with the virus," says Jabraan Pasha, MD, the Internal Medicine Associate Program Director at the University of Oklahoma School of Community Medicine. "When the community embraces wearing masks, it reduces the risk of those with the virus (symptomatic and asymptomatic) from spreading it to others. Countries like Japan and South Korea possibly had less community spread because of universal mask use."
The reason for this? "After someone is exposed to COVID-19, it can take anywhere from 2-14 days to develop symptoms," says Amy Summers, a BSN, RN, CNOR. "Some infected people may never develop symptoms. However, you may still be contagious before you start showing symptoms, so that is why wearing masks is important." However, if you aren't actually wearing, removing, and washing your mask correctly, you could be putting yourself (and others) at greater risk. Not sure if you're handling yours properly? We asked Summers and Dr. Pasha to identify the most common mask mistakes—and here's what they had to share.
Your cloth masks don't have multiple layers.
Whether your mask is store-bought or homemade, Dr. Pasha says that cloth masks should always have multiple layers. "It is also important that they cover your nose and mouth," he says. "The CDC provides information on how to make your own masks, including sewing patterns and instructions, as well as no-sew mask instructions."
You're not adjusting it when you put it on.
To avoid the risk of cross-contamination, Dr. Pasha recommends adjusting your mask to fit your face as soon as you put it on. "When putting on your mask, make sure it is comfortable and secure, as to reduce the need for frequent adjustments," he says.
You're taking it off the wrong way.
If you're removing your mask from the front, Dr. Pasha says you're doing it wrong. "When removing your mask, minimize the touching of your face by only using the straps or ear hooks for removal," he says.
You're not washing your hands after removal.
You're not washing it enough.
If your mask is disposable, Summers says that it should be thrown out as soon as you're done wearing it. However, if it's a cloth style, Dr. Pasha suggests washing it after every use to ensure it stays virus-free. "Masks should be cleaned regularly and can be done in the washing machine or hand-washed with laundry detergent and water," he says.
You're wearing them as a substitute for safer practices.
Make no mistake about it: Dr. Pasha says masks are no replacement for good hand-washing habits or social distancing. "Cloth masks are unlikely to prevent infection if you have prolonged contact with someone with coronavirus," he says. "Social distancing remains our most effective tool for reducing the spread."