Here’s everything you need to know about wearing a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic

Proper mask use is imperative to stop virus spread, experts say

ORLANDO, UNITED STATES - MAY 14, 2020: Guests wearing face masks visit the Universal Orlando's CityWalk as sections of the entertainment and retail district opened today for limited hours for the first time since Universal Orlando closed on March 15, 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to face coverings, temperature checks are also being required. Universal's theme parks will remain closed until at least May 31.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Paul Hennessy / Echoes Wire/ Barcroft Studios / Future Publishing (Photo credit should read Paul Hennessy / Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images) (Paul Hennessy / Echoes Wire, Paul Hennessy / Echoes Wire/ Barcroft Studios / Future Publishing)

You would be hardpressed to go out into public these days without seeing a large majority of people wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Face masks and other items of personal protective equipment were difficult to come by in the last few months, but with a little innovation, many Floridians have commissioned hand-sewn cloth masks and have even made some themselves.

[TIMELINE: The spread of coronavirus in Florida]

You probably won’t see face masks fade from use any time soon, so here is everything you need to know about using masks to protect your health.

How face masks prevent the spread of COVID-19

Because COVID-19 is primarily spread through respiratory droplets expelled through coughing, sneezing and even speaking, face masks act as a barrier keeping droplets from projecting outwards or landing on vulnerable areas of your face.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention these droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs leading to infection.

What type of face mask is best at protecting your health?

According to Emergency Medicine Physician Dr. Rajiv Bahl, face masks are an effective way to keep from spreading COVID-19, but not all masks are created equal.

“Although the best type of masks included respirators - certified N95, N99, N100, or P100 mask - these are best reserved for healthcare providers who have regular direct contact with patients with COVID-19 as there are some providers struggling to find these appropriate protection measures,” Bahl said. “However, with proper fitting, surgical mask or homemade cloth masks can greatly decrease and slow the transmission of the virus as well.”

Bahl said that although homemade cloth masks are not as effective as N95 masks, they still provide an important barrier and help slow the spread of the COVID-19.

Want to know how to make your own face mask? The CDC, in partnership with U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams, made a whole video showing you exactly how to do it.

How should a mask be worn?

Just like a bicycle helmet, if a face mask is not worn properly, it’s not providing proper protection.

“These cloth coverings should fit snugly yet comfortably against the side of the face and should be secured with ties or ear loops,” Bahl said. “By using multiple layers of fabric, you can increase the efficacy of these masks as well. If you are going to use one of these masks, you should routinely wash them using the hottest tolerated temperature setting.”

According to the CDC, face masks should completely cover the nose and the mouth snugly, but not so tight as to restrict breathing.

“Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children younger than 2 years of age, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the cover without assistance,” CDC officials said.

Photo courtesy: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Copyright 2020 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

Do I need to wash a cloth face mask?

Yes - you absolutely need to wash a cloth face mask, just as you would your other laundry to maintain sanitary use.

“If you are able to wash the mask on a regular basis, ideally, after every use, that is the best practice to ensuring its cleanliness,” Bahl said. “Using the hottest tolerated temperature setting with soap or detergent will allow for a clean mask. Ensuring that these masks have adequately dried before use is also important as well. Although bleach can be effective in cleaning the mask, it is not necessary if the fabric does not allow for it. Using the hottest water setting and regular laundry detergent can adequately clean the mask as well.”

How should I take my face mask off?

It may seem like a silly question, but Bahl said the way you take your mask off is just as important as wearing it in the first place.

“Although wearing masks are important in reducing the transmission of the virus, taking them off is equally as important as well,” Bahl said. “Ensuring that you are not touching the entry points of the face including the nose, mouth, and other areas is important when taking these masks off. Adequate washing of your hands and of your face after wearing these masks is also equally important.”

Do I still need to socially distance myself from others if I’m wearing a face mask?

The CDC said you absolutely do need to socially distance even if you’re wearing a face mask.

“Wearing cloth face coverings is an additional public health measure people should take to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” officials with the organization said. “CDC still recommends that you stay at least 6 feet away from other people, frequent hand cleaning and other everyday preventive actions. A cloth face covering is not intended to protect the wearer, but it may prevent the spread of virus from the wearer to others. This would be especially important if someone is infected but does not have symptoms.”

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About the Author:

Erin began her career at News 6 as an assignment editor, then became a show producer. She is now a digital storyteller as part of the Click Orlando team.