It has long been established that consistently wearing a proper-fitting mask over your nose and mouth is critical in preventing the spread of COVID-19. In January, nearly two years into the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its mask recommendations, because as the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus changes and mutates, producing a bounty of variants, we must adapt. The virus will continue to circulate and mutate as long as there are people to infect, so masks will likely remain a part of our lives for some time.
Proper Fit is Essential
Masks are made to contain droplets and particles you breathe, cough or sneeze out. Theymostly protect others. If they fit closely to the face, they can also provide some protection from particles spread by others.
Respirators fitting closely on the face to protect you by filtering out particles so that you don’t breathe them in. They can also contain droplets and particles you breathe, cough, or sneeze out so you do not spread them to others.
While all masks and respirators provide some level of protection, properly fitting respirators provide the highest level of protection. N95s, KN95s and surgical-style masks, (when they are legitimate and fit properly) are more protective than cloth ones.
Assuming the mask fits well and its filtration has been rigorously tested, these types of masks are some of the most protective face coverings you can buy.
Whichever you chose, fit, comfort and consistent use are important to provide good protection.
• Make sure your mask fits snugly against your face.
• Pick a mask with layers to keep your respiratory droplets in and others’ out.
• Choose a mask with a nose wire and bend it over your nose to fit it close to your face.
• Use a mask fitter or brace over a disposable or cloth mask.
• Check for gaps by cupping your hands around the outside edges of the mask.
• Make sure no air is flowing from the area near your eyes or from the sides of the mask.
• If the mask has a good fit, you will feel warm air come through the front of the mask and may be able to see the mask material move in and out with each breath.
• If you use a cloth mask, make sure it has multiple layers of fabric, or wear a disposable mask underneath the cloth mask. The cloth mask should push the edges of the disposable mask against your face.
• Knot the ear loops of a three-ply face mask where they join the edge and fold and tuck the unneeded material under the edges (instruction video: https://youtu.be/GzTAZDsNBe0.)
The New York Times’ “Wirecutter” features a selection of masks they consider to be the best options. They tested 39 models and confirmed the filtration claims of their favorites with government agencies or their own lab testing performed in collaboration with Colorado State University.
Their picks have been confirmed to block at least 95 percent of 0.1-micron particles when worn with a secure seal, with good fit, feel and value. They vetted the sellers and manufacturers to confirm that you’re getting the genuine article.
Go to www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/where-to-buy-n95-kn95-masks-online/#ourfavorite-respirator-masks to find legitimate N95, KN95 and surgical masks from trusted retailers. For reusable options, visit www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/best-cloth-face-masks.
Read “12 Signs You Have a Fake N95, KN95, or KF94 Mask” at www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/blog/12-signs-you-have-a-fake-n95-kn95-orkf94-mask to ensure your mask’s legitimacy.
How to Reuse Disposable Masks
You may find that these disposable respirator masks cost $1 to $3 apiece. The cost can add up and used masks in our landfills can pile up. Fortunately, for most people and in most situations, you don’t need to dispose of your mask after each use or each day.
Masks work the same way on any variant — by trapping virus-containing particles in their layers. But don’t try to save money or your local landfill by trying to wash or disinfect a mask, which can render it ineffective. You can have a steady supply of reusable masks by marking paper bags with the days of the week written on them. When you take off a used mask, put it in the appropriate bag, touching only the elastics. Then wash your hands. Store the bags by a sunny window to hasten decontamination.
The coronavirus has an expected survival time of about 72 hours, so waiting seven days should be enough time for the mask to become clear of virus contaminants.
When Should You Throw It Away?
According to the CDC, a mask should still be wearable if its elastic bands continue to create a secure fit and the material looks clean and provides good airflow.
However, consider where you’ve worn the mask and for how long. Someone who wears a mask in close quarters with others every day, for example, may need to throw it out sooner than someone who wears theirs to the grocery store every once a week.
Whatever the circumstances, switch to a fresh mask if yours is dirty, thinning, damaged or hard to breathe through, or if it no longer maintains a good seal. Throw the mask away if you think you have been exposed to a virus load, such as, if you may have interacted with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19.
For more information, go to the CDC website: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/preventgetting-sick/about-face-coverings.html.