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What to Know About Wearing Masks in Public

Published in Family Medicine, For the Health of It Author: Ulrika Wigert,MD

I know everyone has seen it happening. At first it was odd and people stared. But as restrictions begin to loosen and people start to get out more, wearing face masks or face coverings is becoming the new expectation.

Many health experts say face masks, along with social distancing, will help limit the spread of the virus in the months to come. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a significant number of individuals infected with coronavirus don’t have any symptoms but can still transmit the virus to others. This means the virus can spread among people interacting close to one another — for example, speaking, coughing or sneezing — even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms.

Using simple cloth face coverings, recommended by the CDC, is an important measure everyone should take to slow the spread of coronavirus. These coverings or masks, which can be made at home inexpensively from common materials, limit the spread of infectious droplets in the air by containing coughs and sneezes. Because homemade masks protect everyone else from the droplets created by the wearer, it is important that as many people as possible wear these masks when leaving their homes. Remember that, “my mask protects you and your mask protects me.”

Learn more about how to make a homemade mask.

Wearing a non-medical or homemade mask can help in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, such as shopping at essential businesses like grocery stores or pharmacies, visiting a health care provider or interacting with customers or clients at essential businesses.

It is important to note that the cloth face coverings recommended are not surgical masks or N95 respirator masks. Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for health care workers and first responders, as recommended by the CDC.

Here are some best practices to keep in mind for wearing fabric or cloth masks:

  • Wash your hands before putting on your face covering.
  • Put it over your nose and mouth and secure it under your chin.
  • Try to fit it snugly against the sides of your face.
  • Make sure you can breathe easily.
  • Remove the mask from behind — don’t touch the front of the mask.
  • Immediately wash your hands after removing the mask.
  • Wash the mask after every use.
  • Do not place a mask on a child younger than 2 or anyone who has trouble breathing.
  • Do not use face masks as a substitute for social distancing.

So please help control the spread. Let’s make wearing a face covering the new normal, the cool fashion trend, what everyone wants to wear. And as always, continue social distancing, frequently wash your hands, and stay home if you are sick.

Stay healthy and take care of each other.