COVID-19 has dramatically changed life as we know it, with one major change being that everyone now has to wear face masks. From the way we run errands, how we do business, and even how we interact with our friends, COVID-19 has changed the entire social landscape. Even fashion has changed, with some people preferring to go out in their own personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent getting infected. One staple, however, looks like it is here to stay: face masks. In this article, we will learn how face masks protect us and others. We will also find out why they are here to stay even long after the pandemic. 

What are the different face masks?

Face masks are generally pieces of fabric meant to cover your mouth and nose from external substances. But, wearing a face mask alone will not stop the spread of infection. Most importantly, combine this with frequent hand washing, physical distancing, and getting vaccinated. These are simple but effective measures we can take to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Not all face masks are made equal. Here are just some of the different types of face masks:

  • Medical masks – also known as surgical masks, these are disposable masks that protect you from droplets or sprays
  • N95 masks – this is a type of respirator that effectively filters both large and small particles, which is why these are appropriate for our health workers 
  • Cloth masks – these are usually made of layers of cloth that help trap droplets whenever you talk, cough, or sneeze

Knowing the different types of masks can help us choose which ones are suitable for a given setting. For most of the community, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend using either 1) a cloth mask with multiple layers of fabric; or 2) wearing a disposable mask underneath a cloth mask. These will help protect you as you do most of your daily activities. 

How do face masks work?

When we talk, this produces thousands of fluid particles which can carry pathogens like COVID-19. These particles then evaporate, becoming smaller and staying suspended in the air. This droplet dispersion makes it possible for a pathogen (disease-causing microbe) to enter someone else’s nose and reach their lungs. However, research shows that masks filter these particles so they don’t become smaller and infect other people. This protection is crucial because speech produces a lot of COVID-19 particles, even more, do coughing and sneezing. So if we want to keep near others and talk with them while protecting them from our expulsions,  we must use face masks to filter the particles we release. In short, this can effectively curb the spread of the disease. 

How to wear a mask

Since masks will be around even after the pandemic, correctly wearing your facemask is essential. Here are the basics of wearing a mask

  • Please wash your hands before putting your mask on and after removing it. 
  • Make sure the mask completely covers your nose, mouth, and chin. 
  • Dispose of used medical masks in the trash bin or wash cloth masks daily.
  • Avoid using masks with valves as these do not effectively filter particles. 

Now you know how to wear your mask correctly. But did you know there are ways to increase the protection you get from wearing them? Here are some useful tips to improve mask protection:

  • Choose a mask with a nose wire or a metal strip along the top of the mask. This strip creates a better seal and fits well on your face.
  • Make sure the mask fits snugly over your nose, mouth, and chin. You can do this by checking for gaps around the edges of the mask. You will know you have a good fit if you feel warm air coming from the front of the mask, and you can see it move a bit as you breathe.
  • Knot the ear loops for a tighter fit around your ears. 
  • Do not wear two disposable masks as this does not improve its filtration abilities. 
  • If you are using a KN95 mask, use only one at a time. 
  • Fun fact: masks do not increase the carbon dioxide level in the air you breathe. CO2 molecules are small enough to easily pass through your mask, while much larger particles like COVID-19 virus particles becometrapped.

Just like that, you now know how to get the most and best out of your mask. Hopefully, this is something you can teach and share with other people too. 

Who should wear a mask?

face masks and COVID-19
Photo by Bára Buri on Unsplash

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have the following recommendations for who should wear a mask: 

  • Unvaccinated individuals who are two years or older should wear a mask in indoor and public places.
  • You generally do not need to wear a mask in outdoor settings. But, if you are in an area with high numbers of COVID-19 cases, it might be best to wear a mask. This defensive measure is particularly critical if people around you are not vaccinated.
  • People with compromised immune systems should continue to wear masks even if they are fully vaccinated. 
  • Wear a mask if you are traveling on planes, buses, trains, or other forms of public transportation. You never know who might have been exposed and is carrying the virus. 
  • Even if you are fully vaccinated, wearing a mask is still essential, especially in areas with high transmission rates. This practice is fundamental to maximize your protection and prevent the possible spreading of the virus. 

With all these different conditions and knowing the protection masks provide, the best thing is to wear them and do so correctly. While some may find it bothersome or a chore, wearing a mask can ultimately help save lives and bring this pandemic to an end. 

Click here if you want to learn more about COVID-19 and masks, and research on how masks protect us.

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