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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it is important to remain vigilant with protective and preventative measures. Multi-layered prevention strategies such as wearing masks and getting vaccinated can help prevent serious illness (CDC, 2022a). Masks prevent respiratory droplets from spreading to other people and provide protection to the wearer (Stieg, 2021).

Various prevention steps can be taken based off your COVID-19 community level.

  • Low COVID-19 Community Level
    • Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and booster shoots
    • Get tested if you have symptoms
  • Medium COVID-19 Community Level
    • If you are at high risk for serious illness, work with your health care provider about what precautions are needed
    • Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and booster shoots
    • Get tested if you have symptoms
  • High COVID-19 Community Level
    • Wear a mask indoors in public
    • Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and booster shoots
    • Get tested if you have symptoms

Find your local COVID-19 community level here.

masks

People can choose to wear a mask at any time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that people wear masks with the best fit, protection, and comfort for the individual. It is recommended to wear masks on indoor public transportation settings, which may also be required by local or state authorities (CDC, 2022a). In addition, individuals with symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with COVID-19 should wear a mask.

What Kind of Masks Should I Use?

The CDC also has recommendations on choosing a mask. Overall, any mask is better than no mask. Some masks offer higher levels of protection than others. Masks are made to contain droplets and particulates you breathe out. If they fit closely to the face, they can also provide you some protection from particles spread by others. This can include cloth masks or disposable procedure masks (also known as surgical masks) (CDC, 2022b). Wearing a surgical mask underneath a cloth mask can maximize protection. If surgical masks are not available, multilayer cloth masks can block up to 50-70% of particles and limit the spread of COVID-19 (Stieg, 2021).

Cloth masks should:

  • Completely cover your nose, mouth, and chin
  • Fit snugly against the sides of your face and do not have gaps
  • Have two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric
  • Have a nose wire to prevent air from leaking out of the top of the mask
  • Fabric that blocks light when held up to a bright light source

Cloth masks should not:

  • Be wet or have dirty material
  • Have gaps around the sides of the face or nose
  • Be made of a single layer of fabric or of thin fabric that does not block light
  • Have exhalation valves or vents which allow virus particles to escape

Procedure masks should:

  • Fit properly over the nose, mouth, and chin to prevent leaks
  • Be made of multiple layers of non-woven material
  • Have a nose wire

Procedure masks should not:

  • Have gaps around the sides of the face
  • Be wet or have dirty material

Additionally, there are other ways to have a better fit and extra protection with cloth and disposable masks, including the following (CDC, 2022b):

  • Wear two masks (disposable mask underneath and a cloth mask on top)
  • Knot and tuck ear loops of a three-ply mask for a better fit
  • For disposable procedure masks, fold and tuck the unneeded material under the edges of the mask
  • Use masks that attach behind the head or neck with either elastic bands or ties (instead of ear loops)

Choosing a Respirator

n95 masks

Respirators, such as N95 or KN95 products are made to protect you by filtering the air and fitting closely on the face to filter out particles. They can also contain droplets and particles you breathe out so you do not spread them to others (CDC, 2022b). The manufacturer instructions on the mask should provide information on how to wear, store, and clean or properly dispose of the respirator. The respirator should form a seal around the face. Please also be aware of counterfeit masks. The national Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) approves respirators such as the N95 respirator. Some signs of a counterfeit respirator include no markings on the facepiece, no approval number, and no NIOSH markings. Click here to see an example of proper markings on NIOSH-approved respirators.

Proper Handling of Masks

For the best protection, wear a mask correctly and consistently. Be sure to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before putting on a mask. Avoid touching your mask while wearing it. If you have to touch or adjust the mask often, it doesn’t fit properly so you may need to find a different one or make adjustments to it (CDC, 2022b). In addition to properly wearing a mask, you should also correctly remove your mask and clean it regularly.

How to Take off a Mask

  • Carefully remove the strings behind your head or ears.
  • Handle the mask only by the ear loops or ties.
  • Fold the outside corners together, so that the exterior of the mask is folded together.
  • Be careful not to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth when removing the mask. Wash your hands immediately after removing it.

How to Clean a Mask

  • Reusable cloth masks should be washed at least once a day or as soon as they become dirty.
  • Cloth masks can be washed and dried by hand or by using a washer and dryer.

How to Dispose of a Mask or Respirator

  • Disposable masks should be thrown away after they are worn once
  • For respirators, check the manufacturer’s instructions to learn how long they can be worn before they should be thrown away
  • Disposable masks and respirators that become wet or dirty should be thrown away in the trash right away.

Visit the CDC’s website for more information on masks:

Use Masks to Slow the Spread of COVID-19

Use and Care of Masks

Find Free Masks (N95 Respirators)

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2022a. Use and Care of Masks. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/covid-by-county.html#:~:text=wear%20a%20mask.-,Masks%20are%20recommended%20in%20indoor%20public%20transportation%20settings%20and%20may,each%20COVID%2D19%20Community%20Level

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2022b. Types of Masks and Respirators. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/types-of-masks.html

Stieg, C. 2021. Dr. Fauci: Double-masking makes ‘common sense’ and is likely more effective. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2021/01/25/dr-fauci-double-mask-during-covid-makes-common-sense-more-effective.html