Spotlight on the 1st “W”: WEAR Your Mask

WEAR Your Mask (Consistently and Correctly)

Symbolizing COVID-19 era social responsibility and collectivity, mask wearing in public places has become a crucial aspect of the American mitigation response to a burgeoning pandemic. Scientific consensus is that Americans should be wearing face masks when away from their homes in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. On May 26th a Buncombe County resolution went into effect requiring all persons 12 years of age or older to wear a mask when visiting indoor public commercial facilities (with qualifications excusing those who cannot safely wear a mask for medical reasons or those who refuse to citing religious objections). With mask wearing being new to us all and critically important to COVID-19 mitigation, here are some friendly tips and tricks for avoiding common face mask mistakes:

Mistake #1: You’re wearing it wrong.

COVID-19 spreads most readily through respiratory droplets. Your mask is meant to be a barrier that keeps your own respiratory droplets in and others’ respiratory droplets out. It will only work if you wear it correctly. The top edge should rest on the bridge of your nose and the bottom edge should be pulled down underneath your chin. The fit should be snug, forcing your breath to go through, rather than around, the mask. 

Mistake #2: Your mask doesn’t fit properly.

Depending on your face shape, it can be tough to achieve a snug fit with a cloth mask. There are plenty of tips and tricks to try in your quest to achieve a more comfortable, effective fit. 

•  Masks with ties are inherently more adjustable and can be easier to fit than those with elastic ear loops. The upper straps should be tied tightly around the crown of your head, above your ears. The lower straps are generally best tied below your ears and secured around the top of your neck. If you find a good fit, leave the top straps tied when removing your mask, so that it’s easier to put on next time. 

•  Ear savers can relieve pressure behind your ears, help to prevent elastic loops from catching on hearing aids, and (especially if you procure an adjustable version) can dramatically improve mask fit.

Mistake #3: You pull the mask down or away from your face when talking.

As they approach, their mask sits appropriately on their face, covering the nose and the mouth with a satisfactory fit. Just as they get in (socially distanced) range for a quick conversation, though, they reach up, grab the front of their mask and pull it down under their mouth or away from their face. From an infection control perspective, one of the worst times to lower or loosen your facemask is when you’re close enough to another person to be conversing.  

Mistake #4: You risk contaminating yourself or your mask.

•  Always wash your hands immediately before applying your facemask.

•  Whenever possible, apply your mask in front of a mirror. Don the mask and get it adjusted for a snug and secure fit so that you don’t have reason to fiddle with it later. 

•  Avoid touching the outside of your mask. The mask is a filter, so any externally-sourced viral particles that the mask effectively filters should theoretically be trapped on the outside of the mask. If you accidentally touch your mask, consider your hands contaminated and clean them as soon as possible in order to avoid cross-contaminating other surfaces in your environment.

•  The mask needs to stay put in order to remain effective. Do not pull the mask down under your chin to rest on your neck, do not pull the mask down under the nose so that only your mouth is covered, or pull of one ear loop and allow the mask to hang from the other ear. All of these “cheats” will leave you (and anyone you come within 6 feet of) unprotected and your mask potentially contaminated.

•  Remove your mask using only the ear loops or ties and wash your hands immediately.