As we shift gears now, from “urgency” mode to “new normal”, it’s useful to examine our new habits for ways to make them work for us in the longer term. Among our new habits is mask wearing. When we started wearing masks, we thought they were a short-term thing. Many of us grabbed any mask we could find without much thought to proper fit or comfort, or even quality – we simply wanted to protect ourselves and those around us.
We now know that social distancing is our best defense. We also have a better understanding of the virus and the role of masks in interrupting the contagion pathway. Currently in San Miguel, we are legally required to wear a mask. The WHO June 2020 guidance note recommends the use of better quality masks to protect ourselves, as well as use masks that better protect those around us.
For the general public in locations of community transmission (like San Miguel) and where reliable social distancing is not possible, WHO advises:
- those aged 60 and older AND those with underlying conditions to wear a certified medical mask; and
- everyone else should wear a specifically designed 3-layer cloth mask (see below).
- cloth masks should consist of at least three layers of different materials: an inner layer being an absorbent material like cotton, a middle layer of non-woven materials such as polypropylene (for the filter) and an outer layer, which is a non-absorbent material such as a polyester or a polyester blend.
Now is the time to find a mask design that really works for you – something that’s breathable enough to walk around in, that covers your mouth and nose even when you’re talking, that doesn’t need constant readjustment, and that offers the level of protection needed in different situations. This may ultimately mean having different types of masks for different situations!
But there are many options now, so what to buy? How to choose? It will help to consider:
- A good fit really matters! Your mask must cover the most vulnerable spots on your face: the nose and mouth. The positioning on your nose should provide the best possible seal around your nose and mouth. For most people, that is the very top of your nose below your eyes. Many masks will fit snugly on the chin – this helps seal the mouth firmly. Your mask should not be uncomfortably tight, but snug enough to minimize gaps. Small gaps are normal and unavoidable with certain types of masks, but the fewer there are and the smaller they are, the better. Before settling on a mask design, try talking with it on to be sure it stays in place.
- If you wear hearing aids, masks with ear loops can snag certain designs of hearing aids. Consider a different design OR use one of dozens of hacks to secure the loops differently. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6AtRbph2Lw https://nurse.org/articles/face-mask-ear-pain-relief/
- If you wear glasses, a mask with a tight-fitting nose piece (metal strip) will seal better, forcing your moist breath out thought the sides or bottom of the mask, thus reducing fogging. There are also de-fogging agents for glasses that some people find helpful.
- Different masks for different occasions: a collection of styles will be useful in the long run:
- For higher risk occasions (taking public / shared transportation, sitting in a hospital/doctor office waiting room, shopping in a crowded market, for taking care of someone at home who has Covid-19, or to wear to protect others if you actually become infected) Certified KN95 masks will offer the most protection. They are also the most uncomfortable to wear and the most expensive. A certified 3-ply thermosealed medical mask can also meet the need in many circumstances and may be a better choice for times where extended wear is needed and comfort matters.
- In our epidemic, having several KN95s and thermosealed 3-ply medical masks on hand is a good idea. If you plan to wear them exclusively, you will need at least five-seven for a successful re-use plan, as well as replacements and an emergency stash for illness. Information about re-use strategies can be found HERE.
- For everyday use (walking to shops, walking the dog, shopping where Covid-19 precautions are observed, receiving deliveries, meeting with workers, available for staff or others coming into your home), thermosealed 3ply medical masks or 3-ply cloth masks are sufficient depending on your risk profile.
- Certified thermosealed 3ply medical masks are an excellent alternative to KN95s and many people find them more comfortable and affordable. To be effective for everyday use, they must fit properly and stay on your face! If your medical mask is too loose on the sides, try tightening it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XhbdFm3cnGI&feature=youtu.be
- Be generous with yourself as you make these decisions. Buy enough masks that you can keep them handy, everywhere. Keep extra masks for guests, workers and friends who forget to bring theirs. Depending on your level of activity, you may need at least seven masks to maintain them easily – one for each day of the week. For short uses in a single day (receiving deliveries, walking the dog) most people hang their mask to dry, and re-use. Carry extras when you’re out so you can change it when it becomes uncomfortably damp.
- Nurture your new mask habits. Start each day with a fresh, clean mask. Set up a routine for washing and drying your cloth masks and for recycling your paper ones. Set up a drying station (a mini-clothesline) for drying or “quarantining” your masks as you rotate them. Make “mask hygiene” a normal part of your day, like washing the dishes or brushing your teeth. And follow the reuse plan HERE for your paper masks
You’ll notice that we haven’t even touched on color choices and fashion considerations! One note on this though… masks with embroidered designs may be harder to really clean, and the needle holes may allow particles through the fabric.
San Miguel has a Community Mask Project in place. The project is 100% non-profit, and you can either order the 3 different types of masks described in this article or request them for free based on financial need. They can be ordered here: https://covid19sma.knack.com/covidmasks#start/english/
If your mask doesn’t fit comfortably, wash it and give it away, and try again! There will be a mask out there that suits you perfectly… don’t give up. Find masks you love and make a long-term commitment. We will all be glad that you did!