How Are We Masking In 2021?

Since the start of the pan­dem­ic, mask guide­lines have evolved as pub­lic health offi­cials con­tin­ue to gath­er infor­ma­tion on the spread of SARS-CoV­‑2, the virus that caus­es COVID-19. Masks have proven to be a crit­i­cal tool in pro­tect­ing both your­self and oth­ers from spread­ing the virus. How­ev­er, mask­ing guide­lines can be intim­i­dat­ing to keep up with as there are many chang­ing rec­om­men­da­tions around which mask­ing tech­niques best pro­tect you. 

When to wear a mask

It is rec­om­mend­ed that unvac­ci­nat­ed peo­ple over the age of 2 wear a mask when they may encounter anoth­er per­son out­side of your house­hold, accord­ing to the Cen­ter for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion (CDC). Masks help slow the spread of COVID-19 by shield­ing you and oth­ers from res­pi­ra­to­ry droplets that are released when some­one talks, coughs or sneezes.

The CDC recent­ly announced that vac­ci­nat­ed indi­vid­u­als no longer have to wear a mask when around oth­er peo­ple both indoors and out­doors1. You are con­sid­ered ful­ly vac­ci­nat­ed two weeks after your final dose. Even though you are vac­ci­nat­ed, if you are feel­ing ill, you should wear a mask. This new mask­ing guide­line excludes pub­lic places, includ­ing schools, health­care facil­i­ties, restau­rants, stores and event venues that require you to wear a mask. Effec­tive Feb­ru­ary 2, 2021, masks are also required on planes, bus­es, trains or oth­er forms of pub­lic trans­porta­tion with­in the Unit­ed States. 

Types of masks2

Regard­less of which type of mask you choose to wear, it is impor­tant to find one that fits prop­er­ly to your face and does not gape open on the sides.

  • KN95 masks
    • Dis­pos­able
    • This type of mask is made of the same syn­thet­ic mate­r­i­al as N95 masks that are cur­rent­ly reserved for health­care work­ers. Both get their name due to the masks fil­ter­ing out and cap­tur­ing 95 per­cent of particles. 
  • Cloth masks
    • Reusable
    • This mask should have 2 – 3 fab­ric lay­ers of breath­able mate­r­i­al such as cotton.
  • Non-med­ical dis­pos­able masks
    • Dis­pos­able
    • Ide­al for sit­u­a­tions in which your mask may get wet or dirty. 
  • Neck gaiters or bandanas
    • Reusable
    • While neck gaiters and ban­danas do not ful­fill the mask­ing require­ments in health­care set­tings, schools, fed­er­al prop­er­ties or on pub­lic trans­porta­tion, these alter­na­tives are bet­ter than no face mask at all when a mask is need­ed. Gaiters and ban­danas should have two lay­ers of fab­ric and be secured prop­er­ly to your face to be the most effective. 

Dou­ble Masking

As a result of more con­ta­gious, mutat­ed strains of the COVID-19 virus mak­ing their way to the Unit­ed States, the CDC began to study the effec­tive­ness of wear­ing two masks at once. Their find­ings, released Feb­ru­ary 10, 2021, found that wear­ing a non-med­ical dis­pos­able mask under a cloth mask increas­es the mask’s effec­tive­ness in block­ing out con­ta­gious res­pi­ra­to­ry par­ti­cles3. For added effec­tive­ness, you can tie the dis­pos­able mask’s ear loops in a knot behind your ear for a tighter fit. This will help close in any of the mask’s gaps on the side of your face and, as a result, increase your pro­tec­tion from COVID-19. 

Car­ing for your masks

If you plan on reusing your mask through­out the day, it is rec­om­mend­ed that you store your mask in a paper bag after prop­er removal. To remove your mask prop­er­ly, grab the loops that secure your mask to your ears and then fold the mask’s out­side cor­ners togeth­er. This will help pre­serve the clean­li­ness of the inside of the mask for future use. To wash a reusable mask, you can include it with your oth­er laun­dry at the appro­pri­ate wash­er set­ting. Masks should also be ful­ly dried before your next use4.

If your mask is dis­pos­able, you should throw out your mask after a sin­gle use or change into a new one if the mask becomes wet or dirty. 

Con­tin­ued masking

As we con­tin­ue to learn about COVID-19 and more research is done by experts in the field, unvac­ci­nat­ed peo­ple need to main­tain their cur­rent safe­ty prac­tices includ­ing social dis­tanc­ing and mask­ing. Mask­ing remains a crit­i­cal ele­ment in the fight against COVID-19 and mask­ing guid­ance updates should con­tin­ue to be fol­lowed as they evolve. 

To stay up-to-date on the lat­est COVID-19 infor­ma­tion, vis­it our COVID-19 Updates page.


Sources

1Your Guide to Masks. (2021, Jan­u­ary 30). In Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion. Retrieved from https://​www​.cdc​.gov/​c​o​r​o​n​a​v​i​r​u​s​/​2​0​1​9​-​n​c​o​v​/​p​r​e​v​e​n​t​-​g​e​t​t​i​n​g​-​s​i​c​k​/​a​b​o​u​t​-​f​a​c​e​-​c​o​v​e​r​i​n​g​s​.html

2Max­i­miz­ing Fit for Cloth and Med­ical Pro­ce­dure Masks to Improve Per­for­mance and Reduce SARS-CoV­‑2 Trans­mis­sion and Expo­sure, 2021 (2021, Feb­ru­ary 10). In Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion. Retrieved from https://​www​.cdc​.gov/​m​m​w​r​/​volum…

3How to Store and Wash Masks. (2020, Octo­ber 8). In Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion. Retrieved from https://​www​.cdc​.gov/​c​o​r​o​n​a​v​i​r​u​s​/​2​0​1​9​-​n​c​o​v​/​p​r​e​v​e​n​t​-​g​e​t​t​i​n​g​-​s​i​c​k​/​h​o​w​-​t​o​-​w​a​s​h​-​c​l​o​t​h​-​f​a​c​e​-​c​o​v​e​r​i​n​g​s​.html

4Sil­bern­er, J. (2021, Jan­u­ary 12). Why You Should Still Wear A Mask And Avoid Crowds After Get­ting The COVID-19 Vac­cine. In NPR. Retrieved from https://​www​.npr​.org/​s​e​c​t​i​o​n​s​/​h​e​a​l​t​h​-​s​h​o​t​s​/​2​0​2​1​/​0​1​/​1​2​/​9​5​6​0​5​1​9​9​5​/​w​h​y​-​y​o​u​-​s​h​o​u​l​d​-​s​t​i​l​l​-​w​e​a​r​-​a​-​m​a​s​k​-​a​n​d​-​a​v​o​i​d​-​c​r​o​w​d​s​-​a​f​t​e​r​-​g​e​t​t​i​n​g​-​t​h​e​-​c​o​v​i​d​-​1​9-vac

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