Drs. Mark Sannes and Marty Richards answer all your questions
Turn on the TV, flip on the radio… it’s impossible not to hear about COVID-19. Doctors around the world are working on a vaccine, but until that time comes, it seems COVID-19 is here to stay.
All of us know someone who’s at higher COVID-19 risk: a grandpa with high blood pressure, a neighbor’s diabetic son, an aunt with chronic lung disease… And of course, all of us want things to get back to normal, too.
That’s exactly why wearing a face mask is one of the simplest, most important things you can do right now: While we wait for an effective vaccine, we have to work together to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
As doctors, we hear from patients and neighbors all the time: Does wearing a mask really make a difference? It’s been months – do I still need to wear a mask? Will wearing a mask actually help anyone? To answer these and other questions, we put together this guide to help you feel confident about wearing a mask – and encouraging others to do so, too.
Why should I wear a mask?
Wearing a mask is step number one in coming together as a team to help defeat the coronavirus. We know the virus spreads easily through the air – by wearing a mask, you’re helping limit the particles you breathe out.
When everybody wears a mask (infected or not), the coronavirus doesn’t have nearly as much opportunity to spread around. One reputable study found wearing a face mask reduces the chances of infection by over 80%.
Combined with other COVID-19 safety measures, it’s clear that wearing a mask helps bring infection numbers way down. That’s why it’s such a crucial step to helping end the pandemic and getting things back to normal.
I’ve always been a healthy person, so I’m not worried about the coronavirus. Do I still really need to wear a mask?
Yes. While you personally may not be worried about catching the coronavirus, the main purpose of wearing a mask is actually to protect others.
Some people who catch the coronavirus don’t have symptoms, so they may never feel sick. That’s definitely a good thing. But what’s not so good is that those people can still spread illness to others, who might become very sick – sometimes for weeks or even months.
Wearing a mask isn’t weakness – it’s a sign of strength because you’re looking out for the people you care about. In addition, you’re looking out for people in your community who might be much more severely affected by COVID-19 than you.
At its core, wearing a mask is an act of kindness and neighborliness. It’s one of the simplest good deeds you can do these days, and a great way to be a force of positivity for the people in your life.
Does wearing a mask really work?
Yes. We’ve heard some confusion from people, so let’s clear it up: Multiple studies show that wearing a mask – along with other precautions – does help limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Now, it’s easy to understand where confusion may be coming from. In the early days of the pandemic, scientists and public health officials didn’t know much about the coronavirus. Back then, masks weren’t seen as essential because the coronavirus wasn’t well understood.
But things are different now. Scientists and public health officials have had a lot more opportunity to study how the virus works and spreads. What they’ve found is that masks are very effective and important in stopping the coronavirus.
Health experts – all the way from local doctors like us to Dr. Anthony Fauci – have recommended wearing masks for months now. This guidance isn’t likely to change. Wearing a mask is key to bringing the coronavirus and COVID-19 under control so we can get daily life back to normal.
It doesn’t seem like COVID-19 numbers are going down. Does that mean masks aren’t really helping?
Rising rates of coronavirus infection aren’t because masks don’t work. Rather, they’re partly because mask use is spotty or inconsistent.
Masks are more effective when more people wear them. They’re also more effective when more people take other COVID-19 precautions, too – like social distancing and frequent handwashing. All together, these steps help bring down the risk of infection for entire communities.
Like all big problems, this pandemic is going to take a team effort and working together to bring about solutions. Masks are an easy way you can pitch in – it’s doing your part to help fight the coronavirus, and that’s something that’s easy to feel good about.
What kind of mask should I wear?
The best masks to wear are:
- Homemade masks with at least two layers of fabric – You can get more info on how to make a mask from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Dust masks
- Surgical/procedural masks
- N95 masks without vents – However, if you have access to other kinds of masks, it’s recommended you wear those instead to save N95 masks for health care workers on the front lines.
What’s the best way to wear a mask?
Handling your mask safely helps make it even better at limiting the spread of germs.
Follow these steps to put on your mask the right way:
- Wash your hands before putting on your mask.
- Place your mask over your mouth and nose, and secure it under your chin. Masks that don’t cover both your mouth and your nose aren’t effective.
- Try to fit your mask snugly against the sides of your face.
- Make sure you can breathe easily.
- Avoid touching your mask, except by the straps.
- Try to keep a 6-foot distance between yourself and others. Mask wearing combined with social distancing is a super-powered combination.
Wearing a mask is uncomfortable for me. Does that mean I just shouldn’t wear one?
Masks aren’t one size fits all – literally.
If you find your mask is uncomfortable, always slipping or too tight against your skin, don’t give up. Most likely, you have a mask that’s too big, too small or not made from the right material. As a result, it’s not feeling right to you.
Effective masks come in many shapes and sizes, and they’re made from many kinds of fabrics. Look around for another mask to find one that feels better. Eventually, you’ll discover one that’s just right.
What kind of mask should I NOT wear?
You should NOT wear these masks:
- Any mask with a vent or valve – These kinds of masks allow breath particles to escape, so they won’t help prevent spreading the virus.
- Masks made from materials that make it hard to breathe – Vinyl is a common mask material that can inhibit your breathing. Choose cotton or polyester instead.
When and where should I wear a mask?
We recommend you wear a mask any time:
- You’re in public around other people.
- You’re in private around people you don’t live with.
Wearing a mask in these settings is most effective in preventing the spread of the coronavirus because it helps stop transmission that’s difficult to see or track. When we have good information about how and where the coronavirus is spreading, public health leaders can make more informed decisions that help end the pandemic faster.
To best contain the virus, it’s a good idea to wear masks both indoors and outdoors. Many states – like Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa – mandate wearing masks in indoor public spaces. Check with your state for the most current requirements where you live.
In addition, if you’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19, you should wear a mask any time you’re around others – even within your own home.
Are there any situations where masks aren’t recommended?
We know it’s not possible for everyone to wear a mask at all times in all situations. That’s why wearing a mask isn’t recommended for:
- Kids less than 2 years old.
- People who can’t put on or take off masks on their own.
- People who are working out or playing sports.
- People whose work makes mask wearing difficult or impossible.
But don’t worry: In those rare situations where masks can’t be worn, there’s still things you can do to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. This includes social distancing (at least 6 feet between you and others), washing your hands often, and frequent disinfection of objects and surfaces.
How do I take care of my masks?
Keep your masks in tip-top shape by handling, storing and cleaning them properly:
- Don’t touch your mask, except for taking it on and off. When you do take it on and off, handle only by the straps.
- Store your mask in a re-sealable bag when you’re not using it. This helps prevent germs and dust from settling on it.
- Clean cloth masks after each day you use them.
How should I clean my masks?
Cloth masks can be washed along with your regular laundry and detergent. Use the warmest possible water setting. It’s okay to run them through the dryer afterward, too.
Clean your cloth masks by mixing 5 tablespoons of disinfectant bleach with 1 gallon of water. Soak the mask for five minutes. Then, let it air dry, preferably in direct sunlight.
What are some tips to make wearing a mask easier?
We don’t know about you, but as doctors, it’s sometimes hard to know where our days will take us. That’s why we keep a small stash of masks in our cars and offices – it’s easy to grab one and go, no matter what’s on our schedules. Consider doing the same, like keeping fresh masks in your backpack or purse. It’s also an easy way to share masks with others who might have forgotten theirs.
Wearing a mask doesn’t have to be a drag. You can customize your mask in all kinds of fun ways to show your personality or support (Packers or Vikings… we won’t judge!). One of our colleagues wears differently colored masks depending on the weather. Another tries to match her masks to her outfit. Look at masks as a way to express yourself!
We’ll be the first to admit it: sometimes it can be hard to stay motivated or see the point of safety precautions – especially since the pandemic has been going on for many months. This is a normal and natural process called “caution fatigue.” But all the same, it’s important to stay focused.
If you’re struggling to stick with mask wearing, remember that it’s an easy, daily good deed. Even though it may not always be obvious, people who are most at risk of developing COVID-19 are thanking you when they see you’ve chosen to wear a mask. Remembering others’ health and safety is always something to be proud of.
What else will help stop the COVID-19 pandemic?
Consistent mask use is vitally important. But it’s just one piece of the puzzle to helping stop the coronavirus and COVID-19. It’s also important to practice social distancing, wash your hands often, and disinfect your home and office frequently.
What if I want to be tested for COVID-19?
Did you come into contact with someone who has COVID-19? Are you concerned you may have COVID-19 symptoms?
Testing can help you know for sure whether you have the coronavirus. That way, you can get the right care and take appropriate precautions to help protect others.
We will get through this, but only when we all pitch in
We know you want this pandemic to end – we do as well. It’s going to take all of us doing our own part to stop the coronavirus in its tracks, and the very first step is wearing a mask.
It might seem like a little action that doesn’t make much of a difference. But little actions build up – and they become big changes that have big impacts.
That’s what we need to turn the tide on this pandemic: All of us chipping in. We’ll be wearing masks the next time we see our friends, visit the park with our kids or pick up groceries… Won’t you, too?