Wearing A Face Mask in Public

The global pandemic caused by the coronavirus has changed life almost everywhere, perhaps for years to come.  Among the changes are our behaviors in public where the fear of transmitting COVID-19 to others is still very high. People are expected to remain a few arms’ lengths apart and remain as hygienic as possible, but one newer adjustment is to how we dress.  The face mask has become a must-have piece of our ensemble.

This is partially due to a new social imperative in which people do everything possible to limit transmission of respiratory particles, but many local governments have begun to impose fines on people who fail to go out with a face mask on. This has been spurred on by recent announcements from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that all Americans should be masked in order to slow the transmission of COVID-19.

How Does a Face Mask Protect You?

The reasoning behind new governmental guidelines to wear a face mask in public is somewhat convoluted.  Most masks available to the general public are not sufficient to protect the wearer from acquiring the virus from others.  That is because most cloth masks do not prevent the inhalation of respiratory droplets that other people exhale.

However, face masks do protect you in a roundabout way. These masks may not prevent the inhalation of particles, but they do significantly diminish the number of particles that you breath out.  So, if everyone wears a mask, the risk of transmission of COVID-19 is reduced throughout the population. This, of course, lowers the risk of COVID-19 remaining in a population.

More importantly, this also helps tamp down the surge in sick that places like New York and New Orleans are currently experiencing. If left unchecked, this surge could grow and overwhelm the health care system’s capacity. If that were to happen, that would not only endanger the lives of people with COVID-19 but also anyone who is need of medical care.

Why Did Government Guidelines Change?

If you have been paying attention to recommendations issued by the government regarding COVID-19, then you may remember that the CDC and the World Health Organization told people not to wear masks unless they are sick.  That was earlier in the crisis when these organizations were concerned that the public would buy up N95 masks that health care workers require for their protection.

Those guidelines have changed, however in recent weeks. This is, in part, due to growing knowledge about how COVID-19 is spread. We now know that the coronavirus may spread from infected days before symptoms appear.  That means that it is important that people prevent the spread of the virus even if they don’t feel sick, and one of the best ways to cut down on virus transmission is to wear masks.

While face masks do not make you immune to coronavirus exhaled by others, it limits the spread if you are already infected. In essence, it is a way of protecting a community by lowering the risk for everyone.  Furthermore, you should maintain social distancing—maintain 6 feet between you and others—even while wearing a face mask because of the porousness of most masks.

Your Best Option

If you have access to an N95 mask, then you should use that when you go out in public.  Although not perfect, an N95 mask still screens out almost 95 percent of airborne particles. If you don’t have an N95 mask already, it is better not to try to purchase one. There is a limited supply and should be reserved for health care professionals who need more robust protection as they come into contact with COVID-19 patients.

An N95 mask provides more protection because it is so thick, conforms to the wearer’s face, and the material is specially designed to keep out particles up to 0.3 microns in size. It is almost impossible to mimic this kind of protective gear without specialized materials, but you can fashion face masks of varying effectiveness.

  • Simple cotton mask—if you are not familiar with needle and thread, you can still produce a mask that prevents germ spread.  Just find a tight-knit cotton cloth like a T-shirt and cut a swath from it large enough to cover your mouth and nose, while being long enough to tie in the back. Be sure to wash after every use.
  • Simple synthetic mask—many surgical masks are made from nonwoven polypropylene. You probably have some in your home in the form of reusable grocery bags. You cut out a swatch of this material and attach some elastic bands to form a mask.
  • HEPA mask–high-efficiency particulate absorbing or HEPA masks offer some stringent air filtering. You can make your own high-efficiency particulate absorbing mask by cutting a square of material from a vacuum filter bag and sewing it into a strip of cotton cloth. 
  • Scarves—many people are resorting to scarves to cover their face, but this should be a last resort. Many elastic scarves are made of loose fabric, as are heavy-knit scarves, that allow more particles to pass through.

How to Wear Your Mask

Once you have made your face mask, there are still some things you should consider.

  • Prep—prior to putting on a face mask, wash your hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer.
  • Fit properly—adjust the mask so that it fits snugly to your face without any gaps.
  • Do not touch your mask—avoid touching your mask because the outside of it may be contaminated. If you do touch it, apply hand sanitizer or wash your hands.
  • Carefully remove—after use, untie your mask without touching the cloth portion and wash your hands.
  • Replace often—if you can, wash your mask after every use. Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Wear in high-risk situations—if you are going out into the public, wear a mask. Also wear a mask if you are around an elderly or health-compromised individual at greater risk.

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care

M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.  The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship.  Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA and you should not post any of your private health information.