Written by Isaac McQuistion
Masks seem simple—a bit of cloth, some ties or stretchy material to fasten it, and instructions to wear them over your nose and mouth when around other people. They are one of the most basic yet effective tools we have to contain the spread of the coronavirus. They offer you some protection, but more importantly, they protect those around you.
Masks are not particularly novel. The U.S. implemented mask mandates as a first line of defense against the Spanish Flu in 1918-1919. In many East Asian countries, masks were common long before the current pandemic.
But for being so simple, they seem to generate a lot of confusion. To that end, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has created a guide on how to select, wear and clean your mask.
The page is a useful reminder of the basics. You should choose a mask that:
- Covers your nose and mouth and tucks securely under your chin
- Fits snugly against the sides of your face
The CDC has also incorporated some of the more recent research on masks, updating their advice to include a note about neck gaiters and face shields, which new research has called into question over their effectiveness. Face shields worn only in combination with a mask are still a viable option. They also clarify their earlier advice on N95 masks, advising against the general public wearing medical-grade masks and instead opting for cloth masks.
Most usefully, they give advice on mask maintenance, with instructions on how to remove and wash them. In short, you should act as if your mask has live virus particles on it when you remove it and handle it appropriately. To wash it, you do not need to do anything above and beyond what you would do for your regular laundry, but you should wash it after each use.
For travelers, masks are especially important given the amount of time they are likely to spend in public spaces where they cannot control their environment. This advice also reinforces the importance of having a decent supply of masks with you during travel. Unless you are planning to wash your mask diligently each day, you will want to have several available to wear.
For more advice on masks, including how to make your own, visit the CDC website.