Masks up: why you need to be wearing a cloth mask
If you have to leave your home during the COVID-19 pandemic, you should try to wear a cloth mask to help stop the spread of the virus. Wearing a mask helps protect everyone in your community.
In a pandemic, the first line of defense is to stay home; it’s the only surefire way to keep the virus from spreading. But eventually, most of us will have to go out for groceries, medicine or just for fresh air. That’s when it’s important to wear a cloth mask.
The reason for masks is simple: many people who have the virus don’t know it. You could spread COVID-19 without knowing it. Every time you cough, blow your nose or even speak or breathe near another person, you could be spreading COVID-19 without knowing it. If you wear a cloth mask, you’ll help contain it.
When COVID-19 first hit the United States, there was a lot of changing information about whether or not we should all start wearing masks. In many other countries and especially in parts of Asia, cloth masks have always been widely used during cold and flu season. In the United States, it isn’t a very common practice. But experts agree: wear a cloth mask if you have to leave the house.
What a cloth mask can do
When you breathe or talk, you exhale tiny droplets of water that are too small to see or even notice. If you have COVID-19, it’s in those tiny droplets and those droplets get on everything within six feet of you – your hands, the groceries, the gas pump and other people.
If you’re breathing heavily, yelling, singing or coughing, they go even further than six feet.
But if you’re wearing a cloth mask, they won’t go as far and some of them won’t get past the mask at all.
Since it takes about two weeks for a person to start showing symptoms of COVID-19, everyone in grocery stores, restaurant takeout lines and gas stations could have the virus and not know it yet. If they’re all wearing masks, they help cut the risk of spreading it to other people.
But I’ve been isolating so I know I don’t have COVID-19!
If anyone in your home has left the house at all in the last two weeks, there’s a chance you do have COVID-19. While everyone should be staying at home unless they have to leave, most people have had to go out once or twice to get food, medicine or gas. When you do, you’re at risk, even if you’ve been careful to stay six feet away from other people. Just in case, wear a cloth mask when you go out to help protect other people.
Why a cloth mask?
Because the entire world is experiencing COVID-19 at the same time, there aren’t enough disposable masks for everyone. Doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who are working with COVID-19 patients all the time need the disposable surgical masks and the larger N95 masks that protect against the virus. Doctors and nurses have to throw away those masks and get new ones every time they see a new patient. That means a hospital needs 240 disposable masks each day for each COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit; it adds up to about 10,000 masks a day for each hospital. Medical staff are wearing masks to see other patients too, just in case someone has COVID-19. Staff in nursing homes and long term care facilities need masks to help protect their residents.
There just aren’t enough disposable surgical masks for hospitals, other medical needs and the public.
That’s why cloth masks are so important now – they help stop the spread of COVID-19 in public without taking away from the supplies that hospitals need the most.
What a mask can’t do
A cloth mask will not keep you from getting COVID-19; neither will the disposable surgical masks that most healthcare workers use every day. The only masks that protect almost completely against COVID-19are the big heavy-duty N95 masks that healthcare workers wear around a COVID-19 patient.
Even with a mask on, when you’re outside of your home you should practice proper social distancing and hygiene. Stay six feet away from other people – more if you are exercising and breathing heavily. Wash your hands for 20 seconds as often as you can and use hand sanitizer if you can’t. Avoid touching your face; with or without a mask, your hands will pick up particles of virus if you have it – or will spread particles to your eyes, nose and mouth if they’ve touched it on surfaces.
Who shouldn’t wear a mask?
Children under the age of 2 should not wear a mask under any circumstances – it’s a suffocation risk. People with breathing problems may be unable to wear a mask. Everyone else should wear a mask whenever they leave their home.
How to wear a mask
Wash your hands first! And if your mask is reversible, mark the outside so if you have to take it off, you don’t accidentally put it back on inside-out. Don’t touch the fabric part of the mask – pick it up by the ear loops or by the ties. Position the mask so it covers everything from the bridge of your nose to beneath your chin and fit it snugly against your face. Don’t cheat! If you pull the mask up to talk on the phone or pull it down to breathe through your nose, it’s not working. Keep it completely on at all times when you’re outside of your home and don’t touch any part of it, except to adjust the ear loops or ties. When you get home, immediately take it off and set it aside to wash. It’s best to have more than one mask so you can wash them after each use, but if you only have one, spray both sides down with disinfectant when you get home and let it sit for a few hours before wearing it again.
So why should I wear a mask?
Wearing a mask helps protect other people from you. If everyone is wearing a mask, we all protect each other. It’s the right thing to do.