By now we know that one of the best ways to slow the spread of COVID-19 is to wear a mask when we are around anyone who is not a member of our household. But not all masks are created equal, and some offer more protection than others. Remember, it is possible for you to have the virus without showing any symptoms, and wearing a mask helps protect others from you if you are sick and don’t know it.
What should I look for in a mask?
Wearing a mask prevents respiratory droplets from escaping into the air. The right mask is a balance between filtering capability, fit, and breathability. When choosing a mask:
- Find one that has at least two layers of fabric.
- Hold the fabric up to the light: The fewer tiny holes you can see, and the less light you can see through the fabric, the better it will work to filter droplets.
- Bandannas, scarves, hand towels, or any items made of cotton or linen are a good place to start.
- Thicker, more densely woven cotton fabrics are best, such as quilting cotton or cotton sheets.
- Learn how to make a face covering with household materials.
- Choose a mask that fits your face well.
- There shouldn’t be any gaps around your nose, mouth, and chin. Your mask should fit snugly, but not restrict breathing.
- Don’t wear a mask with a vent.
- Masks with vents or valves allow exhalations with the potential to carry COVID-19 escape into the air. This may be safe for the wearer, but it is dangerous for the community. The wearer may be infected with COVID-19 and unknowingly spread the virus in the community.
- Remember that N95 respirators are still in limited supply, so those should be preserved for health care workers.
- Some other cloth face coverings have been found to be less effective. The following face coverings do not offer much protection and should be replaced with more effective masks:
- Neck gaiters (buffs)
- Bandanas not formed into a snug-fitting mask
- Knitted masks
What about face shields?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and WA State Labor & Industries (L&I) don’t recommend face shields as a substitute for a mask. Face shields might stop large droplets from getting into the air (like when you sneeze). But they might not stop other droplets you create when you breathe or talk, and those droplets can escape through the open sides and bottom of the shield. If someone chooses to wear a face shield, it should wrap around the face and extend below their chin. If you use a face shield, be sure to clean and disinfect it daily, and wash your hands after touching it.
Taking good care of your mask is important. When using your mask, remember to:
- Wash it after each day of use. You can hand wash or put in the washing machine.
- Store it in a clean paper bag when not in use.
- Keep a spare in the car in case you unexpectedly need one.
- Wash your hands before and after removing it, and only touch the straps when removing it, not the mask.
Wearing a mask is one of the most effective tools we have in our toolbox to slow the spread of COVID-19. We all have the power to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community. Remember to mask up when you’re in public, and protect your family and friends. We’re in this together.