Last year, many of us didn’t know how to take the news of having to wear masks out in public. A lot of us thought it was going to be a temporary thing. But here we are in 2021 and now, there are new strains of COVID-19 to contend with that are even more contagious. Because of that, the CDC – once again – is recommending that we wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status.
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We know that the coronavirus is commonly spread between people who are in close contact with each other (less than six feet away from each other). We also know that COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets or small particles that are expelled when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings, talks or breathes. Masks are important because they provide protection not only for ourselves but also for those around us.
According to infectious disease specialist Kristin Englund, MD, Face masks act as barriers for respiratory droplets. “Whether you’re coughing and the droplets catch in the inside of your own mask, or if you’re near to someone else coughing and their droplets hit the outside of your mask – it protects both people,” says Dr. Englund.
Before, we thought a fully vaccinated status meant that we were free to live our lives again without masks. As mentioned earlier, the delta variant’s highly contagious nature means that we all need to mask up again indoors to lessen the risks of transmission. Current CDC data suggests that vaccinated people are capable of spreading the delta variant even if they remain asymptomatic. So, that means we all need to still take the proper precautions to keep ourselves and those around us safe.
While there are numerous styles and types of face masks, the fit helps keep you safe. When wearing a mask, keep these CDC guidelines in mind:
Always wash your hands before putting on your mask. When you do put it on, you’ll want to put it over your nose and mouth and make sure that it’s secure under your chin. Adjust the straps or ear loops as needed to ensure that your mask fits well.
When it’s time to take your mask off at home, instead of grabbing the fabric and pulling it off, you’ll want to handle it by the ear loops or strings if it ties. You can then fold it by the outside corners and throw it in a laundry basket or the washing machine. Then, wash your hands thoroughly to prevent spreading germs.
Should you need to remove your mask for a short period of time, Aaron Hamilton, MD, recommends this method.
Fold your mask so its outer surface goes inward and against itself. This will prevent the inner surface from coming in contact with the outer surface during storage. And remember to wash your hands before and after you put your mask back on.
“Sore throats can be caused by viruses, bacteria or environmental irritants. They could also be caused by vocal strain (using your voice too much), dry air, or a condition called gastroesophageal reflux, or GERD,” explains Dr. Vyas. She adds that anyone can get sore throats, but people with weakened immune systems, allergy sufferers and those who use their voices often may be especially prone to them.
Here are some methods for cleaning your mask.
You can wash your masks with the rest of your laundry. Use regular laundry detergent and the warmest water setting for the cloth used to make the masks. If you have sensitive skin, use a mild detergent.
This requires a few extra steps:
By dryer — When you throw your masks in the dryer, use the highest heat setting and leave them in until they are completely dry.
Air drying — Lay your masks flat on a towel or drying rack and allow them to completely dry. If possible, place the masks in direct sunlight.
A recent study revealed that medical-grade N95 masks that are used by many front-line health care workers, were the best masks for blocking out the spread of infected droplets. However, these masks tend to only be available in clinical settings.
The great news for us? This same study revealed that the cotton masks that most of us use work quite well when it comes to blocking the spread of droplets.
If you’re wondering what else works well, the CDC recommends the following types of masks:
In cases where you might interact with people who are deaf or hard of hearing, people who are learning to read or people who need to see the shape of your mouth to determine appropriate vowel sounds, it’s OK to wear a clear mask or mask with a clear panel.
When wearing these types of masks, make sure:
The CDC does not recommend the following:
While many have embraced face shields and goggles, the CDC does not recommend using them as substitutes for a mask. Instead, both can be worn in addition to a mask to minimize one’s risk of infection.
The CDC recommends that those 2 years of age and older should wear a mask.
If you’re still on the fence about when you should mask up, here are some helpful hints.
Wear a mask:
Believe it or not, mask anxiety is quite common for people who have anxiety disorders or a history of claustrophobia. It is possible to work through mask anxiety. It might take some help from a mental health professional and a mindset change to do so.
Psychiatrist Brian Barnett, MD, explains.
“Mask anxiety, like most forms of anxiety, can be overcome either through self-directed interventions or by seeking professional help through cognitive behavioral therapy or anti-anxiety medications.”
To desensitize yourself to the sensation of the mask on your face, Dr. Barnett suggests wearing one at home so when you have to put a mask on in public, it’s no big deal after a while. He also recommends thinking about the fact that health professionals have been wearing masks regularly for more than a century without any adverse health effects.
Another thing you can do is change your mindset. Instead of thinking that everything is out of your hands, Dr. Barnett says that wearing a mask, even if it makes you anxious, is one of the few ways that you can maintain control over a very unsettling situation.
Struggling with mask acne, foggy glasses or just being uncomfortable while wearing a mask? Here are some helpful ways to make each scenario better.
One thing that you can do to stop your glasses from fogging up? Make sure your mask fits well over your nose.
“You want to make sure your mask fits securely over the nose. With glasses, a mask with a nose bridge will keep warm air from exiting up to your glasses as opposed to other face coverings,” says Dr. Hamilton.
If your mask is pretty wide, you can even pull it up higher on your nose and use your glasses to seal it and shape it to your face. Put your glasses on top of the material that’s over your nose and make sure they don’t slide off. A secure fit will keep the warm air from escaping through the top of the mask.
You can even wash your lenses with soapy water and shake off the excess liquid. Just let them air dry or gently wipe them off with a soft cloth before wearing your glasses again. The soap tends to leave behind a thin film that acts as a fog barrier. Just check with your optician before trying this so you don’t ruin any special coatings on your lenses.
Lather up: A good foaming cleanser will help keep your skin clean and calm. If your skin is acne-prone, use something with salicylic acid.
Get a little flaky: Washing your face with a dandruff shampoo that has ketoconazole or selenium sulfide in it once in a while can also be calming for the skin and help remove excess yeast buildup – especially around the nose and mouth.
Treat it right: Many people use products that contain benzoyl peroxide on their maskne. If you go this route, just be aware that benzoyl peroxide may bleach or stain the fabric of your mask.
Keep your masks clean: Changing your mask regularly can reduce irritation, especially after sweating or exercising. After each use, Dr. Kassouf recommends washing your masks with a fragrance-free detergent, rinsing them twice and putting them in the dryer.
If you work in a mask or plan to work out in one, here are some tips to help you stay cool.
This can be a scary time for young children. To get them on board with staying safe, pediatric psychologist, Emily Mudd, PhD, shares some helpful advice for putting your little one at ease when it comes to masks.
“To improve the success of your child wearing a mask in public, it helps to desensitize them at home. Engage your child in the process — give them a mask that they can decorate, which will increase the chance they will wear it. Purchase a neutral-colored mask, and let your child decorate it however they wish — with drawing, glitter, stickers, or anything they like. You can even sew the mask together as a team, or make a mask that you don’t have to sew. You can make masks out of T-shirts, bandanas, or other materials that you already have at home if your child doesn’t want to wear a traditional mask. Make it fun!”
Sarah Sydlowski, AuD, PhD, MBA, and audiology director of Cleveland Clinic’s Hearing Implant Program, believes that we can reduce many mask-related communication barriers by being aware of how we talk and adjusting accordingly.
“Honestly, a huge part of it is just recognizing there is a challenge that’s happening, it’s real, it’s affecting all of us and that we all need to be a little more cognizant of just slowing down and speaking clearly, especially when extra distance is involved.”
Here are a few other suggestions from Dr. Sydlowski.
Don’t get loud: Louder doesn’t mean better when you’re wearing a mask. However, you do want to raise the volume of your voice just a little bit to get past the barrier. Also, speak slowly and clearly, and enunciate the beginnings and ends of words.
Try wearing a clear mask: “If you know you’re going to be talking with people who do have a form of hearing loss, consider getting a mask that has a transparent window. You can find masks with clear panels that allow people to see your face and read your lips to supplement their hearing,” says Dr. Sydlowski.
Let ’em know you’re all ears: Dr. Sydlowski says when you’re communicating with someone who has difficulty hearing, look in their direction and don’t look away, “We’ve lost a lot of visual information with masks because we can’t see each other’s lips. Looking at someone while you’re talking lets them know that you really have their attention — which is extra important.”
Have your hearing checked: Struggling to hear people or other sounds outside of the mask is a good indicator that you should have your hearing checked. “Some studies have shown that when hearing loss isn’t treated appropriately, there may be a relationship to cognitive decline. Doing something about your hearing early is such an easy way to stay connected and stay sharp so you can keep doing what you love,” says Dr. Sydlowski.
As mentioned before, masks are instrumental in slowing the spread of COVID-19. By not wearing one, you’re not only putting yourself at risk, but you’re also risking the health of those around you. So please wear a mask, wash your hands and maintaining physical distancing as much as possible.