A How-to Guide for Effective Use of Face Coverings
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has issued an order requiring Angelenos to wear face coverings outside of their homes. So if you are venturing out in public after weeks of COVID-19-imposed social isolation, be sure to put on a mask.
Facial coverings are likely to be a part of our daily dress for the foreseeable future. But there remain questions about how to make the best and most effective use of a face covering.
“I’ve seen people wearing them around their neck and pulling them up. That is problematic,” says Dr. Annabelle de St. Maurice, an infectious diseases specialist and director of Pediatric Infection Control and Antibiotic Stewardship Programs at UCLA. “The challenge is, if you’re touching the front of the mask frequently, that’s likely to be the most contaminated part, and there is greater risk of contaminating your nose and eyes in that process.”
Rule No. 1, Dr. de St. Maurice says, is that after donning your mask, try to avoid adjusting it or pulling it up and down. Remove it from the back of the head or by the elastic ear loops. Make sure the mask fits well, covers your nose and mouth and that there are no gaps around your face. And make sure you can breathe comfortably.
Wearing a mask correctly probably is more important than the type of mask you use, Dr. de St. Maurice says. However, if you are making your own or buying a cloth mask, look for one with multiple layers of fabric. A mask with a high thread-count cotton fabric is a good choice because of the tight weave, she says. It is fine to indulge your desire to wear a face covering emblazoned with the logo of your favorite sports team or in patterns and colors that match your outfit, but pass on the face coverings that contain a hole for a drink straw.
It also is important to understand what a face covering can and can’t do, Dr. de St. Maurice says. The primary purpose is to prevent the spread of large droplets from your nose or mouth that may carry the virus. “If you generate droplets [when you breathe, cough, sneeze, talk or laugh], your mask can prevent you from potentially infecting someone close to you, and vice versa if they are wearing a mask and cough, talk or sneeze,” she says. “What a mask can’t do is be a substitute for physical distancing and proper hand hygiene and staying home when you’re sick. Those are the key tenets in preventing the spread of COVID-19.”
It also is important to launder your mask every day with normal machine washing, Dr. de St. Maurice says. Avoid purchasing medical or surgical-procedure masks or N95 respirators. These are critical, high-demand masks that should be reserved for health care professionals who come into direct contact with COVID-19 patients.
Placing a mask or face covering on an older child is fine, but one should not be used on children younger than age 2, or on someone who has difficulty breathing or is incapacitated and unable to remove the mask on their own, Dr. de St. Maurice cautions.
Finally, you may also want to consider adding a lightweight, plastic face shield to your pandemic-protection gear, Dr. de St. Maurice says. No public health organizations currently are recommending face shields, but that could change in the future as more is learned about viral transmission, she says. “There are some experts who see face shields as more important, potentially, because they protect your eyes, which is another route of transmission,” Dr. de St. Maurice says. “As we find out more about this virus, they may be options. If you can tolerate a shield along with your mask, it does provide an extra layer of protection.”
For instructions on how to make a mask using cotton fabric, go to: tinyurl.com/CDC-face-mask
For information about helping children wear face coverings, go to: tinyurl.com/children-face-covering