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Covid Masks 101: Uses, Types, Effectivity

Phantom of the Opera, Halloween, masquerade balls, and medieval physicians – masks are not new to human society. Neither are plagues and pandemics. The use of facial coverings has diverse purposes and intents – and in the face of a virally transmitted health crisis, wearing a mask can save tangibly save lives.

The use of face masks as a precautionary tool to slow the spread of the coronavirus is recommended and in many cases mandated by governments, businesses, and individuals. Despite scientific and societal efforts, however, there is a lot of disinformation around masks due to malicious political rhetoric, distrust of authority, and conflicting or changing messaging from international bodies such as the CDC and WHO.

We know that masks are just one important tool in our shared efforts to confront and move past this global pandemic. Here are the basics around uses of masks, types of masks, and the effectiveness of masks to answer any lingering questions you may have about why this is an important precaution to take – whether you are staying close to home or traveling internationally.

How To Use A Covid Mask

Wearing a mask that hangs from one ear or wraps around your chin might be an interesting fashion statement, but it sure isn’t how you need to use a mask to protect yourself and others.

Proper coverage is the critical step in wearing a mask to protect yourself and others from the spread of covid – so what does that mean exactly?

The following steps are described by the Vermont Department of Health for proper mask-wearing: wash and/or sanitize your hands, pick up a clean mask, and put the mask over your mouth and nose, securing the mask behind your chin. It should fit snugly around your face. Depending on the mask, you will slip the loops of the mask over your ears or tie the strings behind your head to secure the mask in this position. Avoid touching the mask while wearing it, and do not remove it or pull it down while speaking, coughing, sneezing in close proximity to others.

When you remove your mask, do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth, and wash your hands immediately.

It’s that simple.

Types Of Masks

There is a wide range of masks available online and in shops today. Often, single masks are offered for free at indoor establishments and health care centers. It can be hard to know what options to select with such a wide swath. Ultimately, combining science-supported information regarding masks with your own personal preferences will result in finding the best fit for you.

So what does science say about it?

According to a publication from Harvard Medical School in September 2021, the recommended type of mask will have two or more layers of “washable, breathable fabric”. N95 masks are the most effective, though the journal stresses that these resources need to be prioritized for healthcare workers. Surgical masks are recommended by the CDC for those individuals caring for someone infected with COVID-19.

If you’ve been out in the world, you may have seen masks with a strange window to see people’s smiles and frowns, you’ve probably seen folks donning full hockey-helmet-like shields. There are innumerable patterns and various shapes – reusable and disposable, plain and fancy.

And double masking? CDC lab testing indicates that “double masking or tight-fitting surgical masks reduced both transmission of and exposure to aerosols by about 95% compared to no masking”. This is something to consider if you are high risk, or are in contact with people who are high risk, or simply want to be as sure as possible that you are minimizing your exposure to the virus.

Effectivity Of Masks

While there are vitriolic debates over the efficacy of masks on social media platforms and entertainment news channels, the experts (scientists and medical professionals) are far more in agreement: when used properly, masks help slow the spread of viruses. Masks aren’t really at the heart of these ongoing, intense dialogues and publicity stunts. More so, our responsibilities to one another and society at large are in question. And we’ve learned that there are few scientific studies that can compel a person to redefine their ethical code.

According to NPR, a June 2020 study compiled “a meta-analysis of 172 studies that looked at various interventions to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, SARS and MERS from an infected person to people close to them.” These compiled studies all pointed to the same thing: mask-wearing significantly reduces the spread of viral transmissions.

And ultimately, no matter where you fall on the spectrum of collective action and compassion, the reality is that you simply will not be admitted to certain places without a mask – hospitals, airports, an Uber, many concert venues and schools, are just a few examples of areas where mask mandates reign – at least for now.

Conclusion

The political discussion around masks will continue to unfold, as will the science. In can be difficult to predict outcomes in such unprecedented times. However, masks have been part of our societies and diverse cultures for millennia – and as we struggle to mitigate the compounding crises surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, covid masks look to be part of that ongoing story for some considerable time into the future. If you are somehow not familiar with COVID masks, it’s time to saddle up and do so for your own health and for those around you.