It's hard to imagine a world in which leaving the house without a mask was the norm. Like it or not, we'll be wearing masks for the foreseeable future, and it's vital that they fit properly in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. But what exactly does a "proper fit" mean, and how do you know when it's time to replace your mask with a new one? POPSUGAR asked the experts.
How to Tell If Your Mask Fits Properly
Simply put, your mask should cover the bridge of your nose and extend under your chin, and it should fit around your cheeks without gaping, Aisha Thomas, MD, a board-certified internal medicine and infectious disease doctor in Florida, told POPSUGAR. This rule applies to masks across the board, from cloth masks to surgical masks and even N95s.
Dr. Thomas explained that, once on the wearer, a surgical mask's pleats should face downward. These masks can help protect against larger respiratory droplets — one reason experts now recommend you layer a surgical mask under your cloth mask — but it's still important that they fit snugly against your face. Otherwise, you could be vulnerable to infection. If the side of your surgical mask is gaping (a common problem), try this trick for a better fit.
For reasons that should now seem obvious, face shields aren't nearly as protective as a mask — that's why doctors don't recommend them as a first line of defense. "Face shields may be worn to provide an extra layer of protection, but they don't protect against viruses entering through the open bottom area," Dr. Thomas said. At the very least, you should wear a cloth mask, made with multiple layers of tightly-woven fabric, underneath a face shield for optimal protection.
How Often Should You Replace Your Mask?
"Most individuals are not wearing these masks in healthcare settings, [so] it is OK to wear the mask all day for multiple errands like the grocery store, gas station, etc.," Bertha Hidalgo, PhD, MPH, an epidemiologist and professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told POPSUGAR.
Cloth masks should be washed after each use, but because this can cause the fabric to become worn, it's important that you replace your masks if they're no longer fitting the way they should.
Dr. Hidalgo recommends disposing of surgical masks after each use, or at the end of the day if not in a hospital setting. Filters in cloth masks should also be discarded after every use. If you own a KN95 or an N95, you may be able to reuse your mask, as long as you layer another mask on top, Dr. Hidalgo explained. Just store the N95 or KN95 in a non-airtight container, such as a paper bag, until you need to wear it again.
Bottom line: as long as you're choosing masks that fit properly, and you're not wearing them longer than you should, you'll be doing everything you can to keep yourself and others safe.
POPSUGAR aims to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the WHO, CDC, and local public health departments.