Masks and Shields: A Breakdown of COVID-19 Armor
BY KATIE CAVENDER
Even though a trip to the grocery store doesn’t involve riding horseback with a medieval lance in tow, it does require armor of sorts. Gone are the days of metal breastplates with the family crest. Today’s armor to fend off the coronavirus looks more like a cloth face covering sporting your favorite team or an endearing pattern. But not all armor is created equal.
Fabrics, styles and fit of cloth face coverings vary widely, and so do their effectiveness. Researchers are continuing to investigate face masks to discover which types are the most effective at slowing the spread of COVID-19. The most important factors for an effective face mask are fit and fabric.
What type of mask is most effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19?
The CDC recommends that all face masks:
Fit snugly against the sides of your face without gaps
Completely cover your nose and mouth
Include two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric
Are secured with ties or ear loops
Can be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape
When it comes to material, the Pennsylvania Department of Health recommends using two layers of tightly woven 100% cotton fabric.
Wearing a face mask alone is not the answer to preventing the spread of the coronavirus. It’s important to wash your hands, distance yourself from others when possible and stay home if you feel ill.
Are neck gaiters, scarves or bandanas effective masks?
The CDC says, “scarves, ski masks and balaclavas are not substitutes for masks.”
As for neck gaiters –, fabrics, styles and fit of cloth face coverings vary widely, and so do their effectiveness. Your face mask should be two-ply and made of breathable fabric, but the fabric should not be sheer. An ill-fitting gaiter also may tempt you to touch and adjust your mask throughout the day, increasing the chance that germs will be spread from your hands to your mask and face. Use these criteria to evaluate your neck gaiter to determine if it’s the best choice for you and your family.
Should I wear two masks?
As mentioned above, it is important that your mask is two-ply and fits correctly. If your mask is single-ply, consider wearing two masks for better protection. If you have a loose-fitting mask, doubling up your masks may create a better fit. Ultimately, layers are key but doubling up your mask is not always necessary.
When should I wear a vented face mask?
Masks with breathing valves can be useful when working in construction and surrounded by airborne particles that are harmful to inhale. These masks prevent harmful particles from entering the mask and allow breath and moisture to exit. However, since outgoing particles are not filtered, these masks may be ineffective when it comes to slowing the spread of the coronavirus. If you have a vented mask, wear it with a procedural/surgical type mask to keep the valve covered.
Remember – wearing a face mask protects others, as well as yourself. It’s critical that we all wear effective face coverings, implement social distancing and practice strict hand hygiene.
Who should not wear a mask?
Children under age 2 should not wear a mask. Some people may have a disability that prevents them from safely wearing a mask. There are also unique situations in which a mask would create a risk to workplace health, safety or job duty as determined by the workplace risk assessment.
Since some people in our community will not be able to wear a mask, it is even more important for others to take that safety precaution. Masks are more effective when everyone wears one.
Is wearing a mask a substitute for social distancing?
Simply put – no, masks are not a replacement for social distancing. While masks reduce the risk for spreading COVID-19, they do not eliminate the risk. It is recommended that you practice all COVID-19 safety precautions (mask-wearing, hand-washing, social distancing and staying home when sick). All of these tactics are needed to help protect our community.
When should I wear a mask?
The CDC recommends that you wear a mask in the following situations:
Anytime you are in a public setting
Anytime you are on a plane, bus, train or other form of public transportation traveling into, within or out of the United States, and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations – effective Feb. 2, 2021, this is a requirement across the U.S.
When you are around people who do not live with you, including inside your home or inside someone else’s home
Inside your home if someone you live with is sick with symptoms of COVID-19 or has tested positive for COVID-19
The Pennsylvania Department of Health “Universal Masking Order” requires individuals to wear a face covering, in both indoor public places and in the outdoors when they are not able to consistently maintain social distancing from individuals who are not members of their household.
The state of Pennsylvania defines face coverings as, “A covering of the nose and mouth that is secured to the head with ties, straps, or loops over the ears or is wrapped around the lower face. A ‘face covering’ can be made of a variety of synthetic or natural fabrics, including cotton, silk, or linen, and, for the purposes of the order, can include a plastic face shield that covers the nose and mouth.”
For everyday use, preferred face coverings should be factory-made or sewn by hand. Additionally, procedural/surgical masks (paper) can be used as effective face coverings. N95 respirator face masks provide the highest level of protection and filtration. These specialized respirators are typically intended for health care providers and first responders.
To read more about how the Universal Masking Order applies to you visit Universal Face Coverings Order FAQ.
How can I improve the fit of my mask?
Improving the fit of your mask not only helps prevent the spread of the coronavirus, it makes wearing a mask less uncomfortable. Here are some tips:
Custom fit – Start by searching for masks that have ear loops that can be adjusted. If you are shopping for a child, look for custom children’s masks to ensure the best fit.
Nose wire – Consider masks with a nose wire. It’s a metal strip along the top of the mask and may prevent air from leaking out of the top of the mask. Bend the nose wire over your nose to fit close to your face.
Mask fitter or brace – Use a mask fitter or brace over a disposable mask or a cloth mask to prevent air from leaking around the edges of the mask. Check that it fits snugly over your nose, mouth and chin.
Add layers of material – If your mask feels loose, you can consider adding a second mask to help the one closest to your skin lie against your face. Make sure you can still see and breathe easily.
Knot and tuck ear loops – By knotting and tucking, you can improve the fit of a disposable surgical mask. Find a link to the how-to video on the CDC website.
Check your mask before you go – Double check the fit by cupping your hands around the outside edges of the mask. Make sure no air is flowing from the area near your eyes or from the sides of the mask. If the mask has a good fit, you will feel warm air come through the front of the mask and may be able to see the mask material move in and out with each breath.
Can face shields help prevent the spread of COVID-19?
Face shields are not a replacement for cloth face coverings. If worn, they should be in addition to a face mask for your protection. Disposable face shields should only be worn once, and reusable face shields should be cleaned and disinfected after each use. Plastic face shields for newborns and infants are NOT recommended.
Is there scientific evidence that wearing a mask can help prevent the spread of an infectious disease?
Yes. You can visit the CDC webpage considerations for wearing face coverings, to read about the evidence for the effectiveness of cloth face coverings, including scientific studies from reputable organizations.