At this point, we know that wearing a face mask is a crucial way to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. But a mask with a valve is not an ideal choice, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week.
The new coronavirus is primarily spread via respiratory droplets, SELF explained previously. People who have the COVID-19 infection spread these droplets, which may contain the coronavirus, when they cough, sneeze, talk, etc. The droplets containing the virus can then land in someone else’s mouth, nose, or eyes and go on to infect them. But by wearing a mask, you can catch those droplets and prevent them from infecting others.
Because it’s possible to spread the new coronavirus even without having symptoms and, therefore, without necessarily knowing that you have the virus, it’s important for everyone to wear a mask when in public, especially in situations where social distancing is difficult to maintain. However, a mask is not always the most comfortable thing to wear for long periods of time, in hot weather, or when exercising. So it makes sense that people would want to wear masks that cover their nose and mouth but also have something like an exhalation valve that makes it easier to breathe.
The problem with those masks, the CDC says, is that they don’t do enough to prevent the wearer’s respiratory droplets from leaking out. “Masks with one-way valves or vents allow exhaled air to be expelled out through holes in the material. This can allow exhaled respiratory droplets to reach others and potentially spread the COVID-19 virus,” the CDC said in a recent recommendation. “Therefore, CDC does not recommend using masks if they have an exhalation valve or vent.”
If you primarily wear a mask with a valve or vent for exhalation, the CDC suggests using another type of mask instead. The CDC also does not recommend the general public wear medical-grade N95 masks or surgical masks, which should be reserved for medical professionals right now.
So if you can’t wear your usual mask with a valve or vent, and medical-grade options are likely off-limits, take a look at the many reusable cloth masks available now. In general, masks made of multiple layers of material that fit snugly (but comfortably) on the face are the most effective options. In fact, a recent study found that masks made with multiple layers of cotton and/or polypropylene, a type of fabric made from plastic, are the most effective options after N95 masks and surgical masks.
But again, don’t underestimate the importance of wearing the mask correctly—fitting snugly over your nose and mouth—when thinking about its effectiveness. It may be helpful to order a few different styles of masks to try out at home, leaving them on for at least 30 minutes to help figure out which ones are most comfortable on your particular face, experts told SELF previously. For instance, some people prefer masks with ear loops while others like ones with straps that go around the back of their head. Once you’ve got the mask on and secure, do your best not to touch it while you’re outside, and be sure to wash your hands before putting it on and both before and after taking it off.
Of course, any mask you’re wearing is not an excuse to drop other public health measures, such as social distancing and frequent hand-washing. All of these strategies are most effective at preventing the spread of the new coronavirus when used together.