Question: At first there were hardly any masks available and we took what we could get, but now there are a lot more for sale so we have been trying different ones to see what we like. Besides the price, what should we be considering?
Answer: As your question implies, your chief consideration should be how well the face mask prevents the spread of COVID-19, which will depend in part on the mask’s material (multiple layers) and design (no valves or vents), how well it fits and whether or not you wear it correctly, covering both your mouth and nose.
Health officials recommend wearing masks to prevent potentially infectious respiratory droplets from spraying onto other people when the mask-wearer coughs, sneezes, sings, yells, talks or otherwise exhales — this is known as source control. It’s important with COVID-19 because the disease spreads easily, even from people who have zero symptoms and don’t realize they are infected.
As for considerations, we’ll start with a type of mask that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people should not be wearing, namely any mask with an exhalation valve or vent.
“The purpose of masks is to keep respiratory droplets from reaching others to aid with source control. However, masks with one-way valves or vents allow air to be exhaled through a hole in the material, which can result in expelled respiratory droplets that can reach others. This type of mask does not prevent the person wearing the mask from transmitting COVID-19 to others. Therefore, CDC does not recommend using masks for source control if they have an exhalation valve or vent,” the agency says on its website, 808ne.ws/cdcmask.
Another type of mask in the news lately is the neck gaiter, a stretchy tube of fabric that skiers commonly wear to keep their necks warm, and which can be pulled up over the mouth and nose to serve as a face mask. Neck gaiters soared in popularity during the pandemic, even in warm climates, but a recent study called their use into question. However, follow-up research countered the initial findings. Ultimately, as with any cloth mask, it comes down to what the gaiter is made of and how well it fits. Read more at 808ne.ws/snopes.
As for homemade cloth masks, the CDC says they should be made of multiple layers of fabric, completely cover the nose and mouth, fit snugly (no gaps) without restricting breathing, be secured with ties or ear loops, and be able to be machine washed and dried without changing shape. People who acquired their first reusable cloth masks in March might be due for replacements, as they don’t last forever.
As you indicated, nonmedical-grade, disposable “surgical masks” also are available at retail outlets, after being hard to find early in the pandemic. They vary in thickness and quality, so you may prefer to purchase the smaller package size until you settle on a brand you like. This type of mask is designed to be used only once. We’ve had complaints about them littering the landscape, so here’s a reminder to dispose of them properly.
Clear plastic face shields, meanwhile, are no substitute for face masks when it comes to source control, the CDC says, although they do protect the eyes of the wearer. Face shields could be better than nothing for people unable to wear a face mask due to breathing difficulties or other medical conditions, but “there is currently not enough evidence to support the effectiveness of face shields for source control,” it says.
Auwe to the teenage boys who get on the bus with shirts pulled up over their mouth and nose and then let go as soon as they are sitting down, out of the driver’s view. A pulled-up T-shirt is not a mask! This is dangerous to everyone else on the bus. Drivers should not be letting these teens on without a face mask, as is required by the mayor’s order. I am sorry to criticize teenage boys in particular, but they are the ones I see doing this. — Daily rider
Write to Kokua Line at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or email email@example.com.