Masks have been protecting people from COVID since the start of the pandemic, but just wearing a face covering doesn't automatically mean you're safe—especially if you're flouting other considerations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has multiple guidelines for what masks you should be wearing, how you should wearing them, and what mask mistakes may be leaving you vulnerable to infection. According to the CDC, if you are constantly having to adjust your mask, you need a new one. Read on to find out why you might need a replacement, and for more masks to avoid, This One Type of Face Mask Is "Unacceptable" Warns the Mayo Clinic.
If you're constantly adjusting your mask, the CDC says it doesn't fit.
"If you have to continually adjust your mask, it doesn't fit properly, and you might need to find a different mask type or brand," the CDC states on its website. According to the agency, if your mask has large gaps or is too loose or too tight, then it does not fit right.
Roopa Kalyanaraman Marcello, MPH, a public health policy and communications leader, says masks should "cover your chin and come up to the bridge of your nose." If you're unsure if your mask fits well enough, Marcello recommends you pay attention to how it moves when you talk. If it "stays on the bridge of your nose" while you're talking, then it fits. And for more masks to steer clear of, The CDC Warns Against Using These 6 Face Masks.
A mask that doesn't fit may not protect against the coronavirus.
Javeed Siddiqui, MD, the chief medical officer at TeleMed2U, says that masks are intended to "prevent the emission of respiratory secretions that may contain SARS-CoV-2," the virus that causes COVID. The only issue? A mask that doesn't fit won't do this.
"If a mask is not fitting appropriate, it can allow for release of respiratory secretions into the air and can also allow respiratory secretions to enter in around the mask," he said. "An ill-fitting mask can result in exposure of virus-laden respiratory droplets to those around the wearer, and can potentially expose the wearer to respiratory droplets from those around [them]." And for more up-to-date information, sign up for our daily newsletter.
And an ill-fitting mask may actually increase your risk of catching COVID.
It's not only a matter of not fully protecting yourself—you also could be in danger of infecting yourself. Seema Sarin, MD, the director of lifestyle medicine at EHE Health, says that while direct person-to-person spread is the most common way someone will get COVID, hands can also spread the virus around. If you touch surfaces that have been touched by infected individuals, you could potentially pick up viral particles on your hands. And if you touch your mask to adjust it after this, you could infect yourself.
"If your hands get contaminated and then you touch your mask, those germs could get in the area around your eyes, mouth, and nose where virus particles enter your body," Sarin explains. And for more ways to protect yourself from the coronavirus, Dr. Fauci Says You Need One of These at Home to Avoid COVID.
If you do need to touch your mask, you should only do so with clean hands.
You may not need to go tossing out your mask if it slips once or twice, but you still need to be cautious in these instances. Shawn Nasseri, MD, a Mayo Clinic-trained otolaryngologist and co-founder of EUKA, says you should "always wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before touching your face or adjusting your mask."
"You should not touch the part of the mask that is closest to your nose and mouth since those are the areas that the pathogens enter. You can safely touch the loops of your mask that go over your ears, but it is best to make sure that you wash your hands before just to be extra safe," he says. He also recommends making sure you are not within six feet of anyone else when adjusting your mask to avoid potentially spreading the virus to anyone else. And for more mask news, The White House Just Mandated Masks in These 5 Places.