Recently, the CDC shared new recommendations on face masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Specifically, they now recommend that everyone wear a reusable, washable cloth face covering when in public settings.
Below are some commonly asked questions—and answers—about the new guidelines.
What is the CDC guidance on N95 and surgical masks?
CDC guidance on N95 and surgical masks has not changed—these should still be saved for people with high exposure to the virus.
N95 masks in particular need to be professionally fitted to the wearer’s face in order to create a perfect seal when worn. Without a professional fitting, the mask won’t be as effective as it should be, anyway.
What about disposable face masks?
If you use a disposable face mask, remember it is just that—disposable! A disposable face mask should not be worn over and over again.
Wash your hands three times every time you use a disposable face mask:
- Before putting it on
- Before taking it off
- After taking it off
Then throw it away in a trash bin or receptacle to keep others safe from possible exposure to COVID-19.
Does wearing a face mask take the place of other measures?
No. According to the CDC, it is still just as important to maintain six feet of distance from other people and to practice good hand hygiene—regardless of whether you are wearing a face covering.
By adding a cloth face covering while continuing to practice previous recommendations, you can help reduce the risks for yourself and your community even more.
What is the correct way to wear a face covering?
To be effective, your face covering needs to fully cover your mouth and nose.
The fabric should almost reach the bridge of your nose, and it should extend below your chin.
Be careful not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands when putting on or taking off your face covering.
How do I keep my face covering clean?
This is an important question—since it constantly touches your face, the last thing you want to do is put it on after it may have been contaminated. To keep your face covering clean, you should:
- Wash your hands before you put it on, and before and after you take it off
- Avoid touching or adjusting your face covering while wearing it in public
- Launder your face covering after each time you wear it out (you can use regular laundry detergent and your washing machine)
How do I make a cloth face covering?
The CDC has provided these instructions, including no-sew options, for making a cloth face covering at home out of readily available materials.
What can I make it out of?
You can make your mask out of inexpensive household materials, like an old t-shirt or cotton bandana.
Do not use paper or plastic bags to make your face covering. These could cause suffocation and death when worn over your mouth and nose.
When should I wear my face covering?
The CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering any time you are in a “community,” or public, setting—like in a store or on public transportation. This is especially recommended if you live in an area where COVID-19 is currently widespread.
If you are an essential worker, your employer may provide you with commercially made masks and additional guidance on how to wear them at work.
Who should NOT wear a cloth face covering?
Cloth face coverings are very safe for the majority of us, but they should not be worn by:
- Children under two years of age
- Anyone who has trouble breathing
- Anyone who is unconscious
- Anyone who would be unable to remove the covering from their face without help
Before, the CDC told people not to wear face masks. What changed?
COVID-19 is a new virus and scientists are constantly learning more about it.
As the CDC learned more about COVID-19, it became apparent that people who have no symptoms can unknowingly spread the virus to others—including people who might be more vulnerable to the illness.
Cloth face coverings are mainly beneficial in that they “trap” virus carrying-droplets from the wearer’s mouth and nose, reducing the chances of unknowingly spreading COVID-19 to others in your community.
This is important to understand. Cloth face coverings keep you from spreading germs such as the coronavirus, but they do not protect you from catching the virus the way that a surgical or N95 mask would.
This article was reviewed April 16, 2020 by Thomas M. Kerkering, M.D., F.A.C.P., F.I.D.S.A., Professor of Medicine, Section of Infectious Diseases, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.
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