Guilty of wearing your face mask for longer than a day? You’re not the only one. We’ve all made a few mask mishaps over the last few years, but with Omicron cases surging across the country, it could well be time to rethink your mask-wearing skills. Here’s how to make sure your mask is giving you the protection you need against COVID-19.
It’s been over two years since the first Coronavirus outbreak, so wearing face masks has pretty much become part of the daily norm. Several states saw mask wearing rules relaxed back in October 2021, but as Omicron cases surge across the country, health experts are once again advising people to put on their masks, wherever possible.
And whilst it might seem like a bit of a pain to keep dashing out the door with a mask in hand, it really is one of the most effective ways — along with social distancing — to stop the virus from spreading.
But for a mask to be effective, you have to be wearing it properly, and it needs to give you the right amount of protection — it needs to be able to filter airborne particles and fit correctly so those particles can’t get in or out.
That could mean that many of the masks we’ve been wearing so far aren’t actually up to scratch. Experts are now suggesting that medical grade respirator masks are much more protective than regular masks — particularly in the wake of the highly contagious Omicron variant — and that these should be your go-to when it comes to masking up.
So, to avoid any face mask mishaps, and ensure you’re getting the best protection against COVID-19, here’s what you need to know about wearing a face mask, choosing the right mask, and how to fit it correctly.
When should I wear a mask?
Experts suggest that you should wear a face mask when you can’t physically distance yourself from others. Generally speaking, this is when you’re in an indoor setting — it’s harder for virus particles to travel in an outdoor setting, so you’re less at risk when you’re outside. Each state has different mask mandates, so you should check for state and territory updates.
You only really need to wear a mask at home if you or someone else in your household is sick.
Which face mask should I choose?
If you have a cloth mask, it’s better than no mask at all; they do provide a little protection. But experts are now suggesting that they’re not really up to scratch compared to medical grade masks. In fact, cloth masks are the least protective when it comes to Covid. They’re fine if you’re outdoors or attending an uncrowded event, providing they’re made of cotton and have three protective layers.
If you’re looking for a little more protection, you should consider a surgical or medical grade mask that’s well-fitting and has enough filtration to block out droplets from your nose and mouth. It’s also important to check the breathability — you need a mask that’s protective but also comfortable enough that you can breathe easily. These types of masks usually tick both boxes.
Respirator masks, like the N95 and KN95, are the most protective masks out there. They prevent inhalation of even tiny airborne particles — they’re made of tiny fibres that filter out up to 95% of particles in the air — so if you want maximum protection, you’ll want to invest in one of these. Particularly when in high risk environments, such as indoor events, restaurants, flights, public transport, hospitals etc.
Make sure your mask fits
Not all masks fit perfectly, but the golden rule for any mask is that it has to cover your mouth and nose. It needs to fit snugly yet comfortably on the face, making sure that it traps your breath. You can shop around to find the right mask that fits for you, but there are ways you can adjust it to make it a better fit.
Cloth masks usually have adjustable ear loops or straps to make it fit to size. You can always pop a surgical mask underneath for extra protection or to improve the fit.
Some masks have a nose wire that you can cinch around your nose to ensure there are no gaps.
If you do wear a cloth mask, make sure it has at least three layers of fabric and you should wash after each use to avoid self-contamination.
Medical grade masks, like N95s or surgical masks, are designed to fit much more snugly, but you might need to make a few adjustments to make it fit to your size.
Again, you can adjust the straps and ear loops. There are different sizes available, so just shop for the right one and just make sure the mask fits on your face, covers your nose and mouth and there are no gaps allowing any airborne particles to escape.
Anyone with a beard might struggle to make their mask fit, so you might need to consider a trim to make sure your mask is snug enough.
Always wash your hands before putting your mask on and taking it off
Take care when putting your mask on and taking your mask off. Make sure you always have clean, sanitised hands, and take it off from the back using the ear loops or straps.
Surgical masks should only be worn once, so after using make sure you throw away. N95s and KN95s can be worn up to five times, but throw away after this.
Cloth masks should be stored away in a sealed bag until you wash it.
You should also try not to touch your mask while you’re wearing it.
Stop your glasses from fogging
Anyone who wears glasses will know all too well how irritating it can be wearing a mask and their specs at the same time. The trick to avoid your glasses from steaming up, is getting a mask that fits perfectly on the bridge of the nose — so any masks with a nose wire should help as you can adjust until there are no gaps.
If you still find your glasses are foggy, invest in an anti-fog spray that should help.
Who should be wearing masks?
Anyone over 2 years or older and not up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines should wear a mask indoors and in public.
Here are a few tips from NSW Health, to ensure that your mask is fitted properly without any gaps.
- Remove glasses and hats. Tie back long hair so it doesn't get tangled in the respiratory mask straps.
- Put the mask on your face, making sure that the nose piece is at the top of the mask.
- Place the headband or ties over the head and at the base of the neck.
- Compress the mask against the face to ensure a tight seal across the bridge of the nose. Make sure there are no gaps.
- Compress the mask to ensure a seal across the cheeks and the face.
- Conduct a fit check: check the seal of the mask by gently inhaling. If the mask is not drawn in towards the face, or air leaks around the face seal, readjust the mask and repeat process or check for defects in the mask. If the mask still leaks, you might need to try a different size or style of mask.
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