Face masks have become essential accessories in the effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But it’s critical to wear them and handle them correctly to protect yourself and others.
“Face masks are designed to provide a barrier between your airway and the outside world,” says Dr. Ole Vielemeyer, medical director of Weill Cornell ID Associates and Travel Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and Weill Cornell Medicine. “By wearing a mask that covers your mouth and nose, you will reduce the risk of serving as the source of disease spread by trapping your own droplets in the mask, and also reduce the risk of getting sick via droplets that contain the coronavirus by blocking access to your own airways.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises everyone to wear a face mask in public when social distancing is hard to maintain — such as in grocery stores and pharmacies and on public transportation. From New York and New Jersey to Hawaii, a number of states now require face masks in public.
They’re especially important in stopping the spread of the coronavirus because people can carry and spread the virus even when they are not exhibiting symptoms. “Presymptomatic and asymptomatic patients could well account for half, maybe up to 80%, of transmissions,” Dr. Vielemeyer says.
But for a mask to be effective, it has to be used correctly, he says. Here, Dr. Vielemeyer shares with Health Matters what you need to know about wearing a face mask, from how to put it on properly to how to clean it — tips he says you’ll need for the foreseeable future.
“The pandemic is far from over,” Dr. Vielemeyer adds. “We will need protection for ourselves and for others through several means, including the use of face masks, for some time to come, likely months. Thus, developing a safe and sensible routine around the use of face masks is a good idea.”