The idea of wearing a face mask through the long winter, as people wait for a COVID-19 vaccine, may not sound appealing. But as communities face record surges of COVID-19 cases, it’s crucial to wear your mask properly. It’s one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Research published in October in the journal Nature Medicine projected that universal mask wearing would save almost 130,000 lives between mid-September 2020 and the end of February 2021. In addition, researchers who evaluated the effects of mask mandates in 15 states and the District of Columbia estimated that 230,000 to 450,000 COVID cases were possibly avoided between April 8 and May 22 because people wore masks, according to a study in the journal Health Affairs.
And there’s another good reason to cover up: Wearing a mask appears to be protective for the wearer as well as others, according to a scientific brief from the CDC.
“Until vaccines have been widely distributed and transmission of the virus has stalled, wearing a mask is our best defense,” says Cliff Dryden, MBA, RRT-NPS, director of respiratory therapy at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.
Don’t assume a winter scarf can take the place of a well-fitting mask. Bulky scarves and other cold weather wear may shield you from the cold, but they are no match for COVID-19 and shouldn’t be worn in place of or under a mask. Scarves may be too loose or thin to thwart virus particles.
Wearing a face mask takes some getting used to, Dryden acknowledges. It can give the wearer the sensation of having to inhale or exhale harder.
“There’s definitely an impact,” Dryden says. “A face mask is designed to allow you to function, but you won’t be able to function at 100% capacity.” You may get winded more easily, he says.
But a mask has hidden benefits in the winter. “Cold air dries and cools the airway,” Dryden says. “However, wearing a mask contains the warm, exhaled breath and may serve to help combat the effects of winter.”
Dryden suggests the following to make masks easier to tolerate: