The World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other public health authorities have all reached a consensus about the importance of face masks. When mask-wearing is paired with handwashing and social distancing, it can do a lot to curb the spread of a respiratory disease like COVID-19. Mask-wearing also contributes to community health; more people wearing masks means that there’s less leeway for the virus to spread via infected respiratory droplets. If someone suspects that they’ve contracted COVID-19, they will be able to shield other people from catching it if they’re wearing their mask correctly.
This assumes, however, that the right type of face covering is being used and that the face mask is worn in the proper manner. Unfortunately, there are still some cases in which people use the wrong type of face covering or don’t wear their masks the way they’re meant to be worn. This ultimately defeats the purpose of using a mask in the first place: to put up a barrier against infected respiratory droplets that come from the nose and mouth.
Does your face mask afford you and the people around you optimal protection against COVID-19? Or are you making some of the most common mistakes when wearing a mask? Find out so that you can wear your mask correctly and maximize everyone’s protection from COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.
Using a bandana, gaiter, or mask with a valve as a face covering
The first mistake that people often make when masking up is choosing the wrong type of face covering. Improvised coverings like bandanas, gaiters, or scarves have fabrics that aren’t woven as tightly as those used on face masks, which means they are less effective at trapping respiratory particles. Masks with holes or valves aren’t any better, as they can still allow these particles to escape. You’re much better off when properly using antibacterial face masks, which are expressly manufactured for day-to-day protection outside medical settings.
Not covering your nose
Another common mistake is not wearing the face mask all the way up so that it covers the nose. The fact is, you can still breathe in viral particles from your nose, and wearing the mask this way won’t effectively contain your respiratory droplets if you suddenly sneeze. Plus, if your nose sticks out over the edge of the mask, you might actually breathe in the germs that have collected on the mask’s exterior, thus increasing your chances of getting sick. As such, when putting on your mask, make sure that it fits snugly over your nose, mouth, and chin. If you have to wear a surgical mask, for example during a visit to the hospital, don’t forget to pull it in both directions and unfold the flaps over your nose and chin.
Frequently touching the surface of your mask
You might get the impulse to touch your mask while you’re wearing it, for example when you need to adjust its position. But if you touch your mask and then touch your eyes or nose after, you run the risk of exposing yourself to harmful microbes. Once the mask is on your face, remember to avoid touching the cloth surface that covers your mouth and nose. When you have to adjust or remove the mask, do so by grasping the loops or ties. In addition, don’t forget to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer when your hands make contact with the mask.
Letting your mask dangle from your ear
When it’s time to eat or drink, people often let their masks dangle by the loop from a single ear, much like a clothing hook. You might be able to see the logic in this, as it seems better than removing the mask entirely and putting it on a dirty surface like a table-top. But the mask could just as easily fall off your ear and collect all the germs that are on the floor. If you’re dining outdoors or taking a swig from your water bottle while you’re exercising at the park, carefully adjust your mask so that both loops stay on your ears. It’s also safe to bring a clean container to put your mask in while you’re eating. Just make sure to sanitize your hands and put your mask back on immediately after you’re done.
Wearing a dirty or damaged mask
Lastly, if you’re wearing a soiled or damaged mask, you won’t be getting the full protection you need against a disease like COVID-19. Remember that reusable cloth masks should always be washed after every use, and that single-use surgical masks should be properly disposed of. The same goes for masks with damaged cloth surfaces or overly stretched out loops. Replace these with new ones that have no holes in the fabric and have loops that fit snugly around your ears.
Again, wearing masks can keep you and the people around you safe from disease. But the mask has to be worn correctly, and you have to choose the right kind of face covering for the occasion. Stay safe and stay healthy by following the tips listed above.
Ellen Diamond did her degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. She has a particular interest in mental health and well-being.
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