Mask Etiquette

Now months into quarantine, wearing masks have become almost second nature to most of us. And yet, there are still a few aspects that may not be completely clear to everyone. Here are some answers to a few questions about wearing masks to keep yourself and those around you safe.

  1. Which type of mask should I use?

According to Peace Health, a nonprofit health care system, there are four types of masks: cloth, procedure, surgical, and N95 masks. 

Cloth masks are okay for those who show no signs of having COVID-19 and provide basic coverage to prevent your own germs from spreading to others. You can use these masks when running errands outside where there may be other people, like the grocery store.

Procedure masks can provide the same coverage as cloth masks can, except it also protects the wearer from germs in the air.

This infographic from Public Health provides detailed information on the different types of mask as well, for reference.
  1. Does my mask have to cover my nose?

Yes! In fact, wearing a mask without covering your nose defeats the purpose of wearing a mask in the first place. Since we breathe air in and out from our noses, the cells in the nose are most easily infected by COVID-19, according to a study published in the Cell journal. Leaving your nose uncovered allows yourself to be easily exposed to the virus and breathe it in while also endangering others by exposing them to the virus you might breathe out from your nose into the surrounding air without even realizing it.

  1. What if I need to sneeze?

Opinions on sneezing are mixed. On one hand, if you take off your mask to sneeze, you’re releasing all those germs into the environment. On the other hand, sneezing into your mask is unhygienic for yourself and leaves you breathing in the germs your body just released. Eleanor Murray, a Boston University School of Public Health assistant professor, shares that you need to do what’s best depending on the situation you are in. In the end, the goal is to keep anything you’re sneezing out away from other people or objects that they may touch. Sneezing into your arm is the best way to contain as much of it as possible and doing that without dirtying your mask is even better, so long as you make sure you don’t sneeze into the direction where other people may be.

  1. Can I reuse masks? If so, how do I clean it and how often?

Masks are reusable, although some are better not reused than others, even disposable masks can be reused if they are used carefully. Dr. Lucian Davis, Yale School of Public Health’s epidemiologist, shares that you should not touch your mask unless you’ve cleaned your hands. If you need to take off your mask, make sure to do so somewhere that does not have many other people and minimize touching your mask to just the straps. Maintain a clean storage area for your mask, like a paper bag or any container that has good ventilation.

  1. Do we still have to social distance if we have our masks on?

Wearing masks have been heavily emphasized since the beginning of the pandemic, but they are not the solution to preventing the spread of the virus. Dr. Shanina Knighton of Case Western Reverse University shares that the best course of action is to both socially distance and wear a mask, particularly in public spaces, for maximum safety. Droplets can still escape a mask, contrary to popular belief, so maintaining distances of at least six feet is still necessary.

  1. Why is the distance for socially distancing six feet in the first place?

Six feet is the typical distance that droplets can travel from a person’s mouth. According to Dr. Knighton, everything from breathing and talking to sneezing and coughing results in droplets traveling out of your mouth. 

  1. Is it bad that masks keep us breathing the same air for extended periods of time?

Although there has been misinformation about masks resulting in carbon dioxide poisoning, this is untrue. Just as droplets can still leave a mask from your mouth, air can both exit and enter your mask, allowing you to breathe as you normally do.

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