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Los Angeles,
07:00 AM

When and How to Wear a Mask

To avoid a second California shutdown, Gov. Gavin Newsom recently ordered all state residents to wear a mask in public. He was later joined by the four previous governors of California—both Democrats and Republicans—in a united public service announcement supporting the order.

As states ease stay-at-home orders, masks continue to play a critical role in slowing the spread of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus). But the number of COVID-19 patients is on the rise, and some experts have observed that many people are wearing face coverings incorrectly or not wearing them at all.

"We're not in the clear from this virus, and there are many places in the country where cases and even hospitalizations are increasing," said infectious disease specialist Michael Ben-Aderet, MD, associate director of Hospital Epidemiology at Cedars-Sinai. "But people's attention has gone elsewhere and we need to remind them that there's clear evidence that wearing a mask significantly limits the spread of COVID-19."

Wearing a mask can contain the respiratory droplets that travel up to 6 feet through the air when we talk, sing, sneeze or cough. And because many people can be infectious before they develop any COVID-19 symptoms, masks are an effective way to protect others from catching the virus.

To counter pandemic fatigue, Ben-Aderet said, it's important to review public health guidance as we return to certain activities during an ongoing outbreak.

When should you wear a mask

"The bottom line is you should wear a cloth face covering whenever you can't stay at least 6 feet away from people who are not members of your household," said Ben-Aderet.

Put on a mask, for example, when visiting a supermarket, riding public transportation, walking down a busy street, working out in a gym shared with others or when occupying common areas of a workplace, such as hallways, elevators and restrooms.

Masks are not essential if you're riding alone in a car, jogging on an empty street or working alone in a private office. But you should keep one on hand in case you encounter others.

You obviously can't wear a mask while eating or drinking, so it's important to stay at least 6 feet away from those not in your household when dining at a restaurant.

It's also important to wear a mask when you're near objects frequently touched by others to avoid getting respiratory droplets on those surfaces. After touching shared surfaces, wash your hands.

The bottom line is you should wear a cloth face covering whenever you can't stay at least 6 feet away from people who are not members of your household.
Michael Ben-Aderet, MD
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How should you wear a mask

Wearing a mask the right way is as important as wearing one altogether.

"You want to ensure your face covering is effective and that it's not accidentally contaminating you," said Ben-Aderet.

Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before putting on your mask. Place it over your nose and mouth, secure it under your chin and fit it snugly against the sides of your face. Make sure you can breathe easily.

Do not:

  • Wear a mask below the tip of your nose
  • Leave your chin exposed
  • Touch the surface frequently
  • Let it rest under your chin when not in use—assume the surface is contaminated

When it’s time to remove your mask, sanitize your hands and remove the mask from behind by the ties or ear loops without touching the front. Store the mask in a clean, plastic reusable bag if it's not dirty and you can wear it again the same day.

If your face covering is reusable, wash it at least once a day with soap and warm water. Discard disposable masks at the end of the day. And don't use a mask that becomes wet or soiled.

When selecting a cloth mask, choose something that's comfortable, provides enough coverage and allows you to breathe easily. If you choose to wear a disposable face covering, use a plain surgical-style mask. Save N95 masks—which filter air—for healthcare workers or those who work in high-risk settings.

For more information, Ben-Aderet recommends websites for public health agencies such as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Read more on the Cedars-Sinai Blog: Understanding COVID-19 Vocabulary

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