Occasional mask-wearing is likely to be part of everyday life for people in the United States for the foreseeable future, as it has been in some other parts of the world for some time. Guidelines about when to wear masks, what types of masks to wear and the best mask materials continue to evolve and change. The dynamic nature of this information leads to lots of questions: How do I know when I should be wearing a mask? When is one-ply mask material acceptable vs. three-ply or an N-95 mask? Should I wear a mask outdoors? Should I double-mask? This masking guide will point you to the right resources to make informed choices about masking based on your individual situation and current external factors.
Mask Resources and Guidance
There are many news outlets and websites that claim to have the latest guidelines about mask-wearing, but for the most up-to-date, reliable guidance it is best to check the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) guidelines on masking. As the nation’s public health protection agency, the CDC is charged with protecting the health of U.S. citizens at home and abroad from public health threats. This agency has access to the latest research and statistics and regularly updates its website with the latest recommendations.
Mask Materials and Fit
In early 2020 it was harder to find protective masks, and some people resorted to making their own from a variety of materials. Homemade masks were sometimes constructed from scarves, bandanas and sometimes even coffee filters. Today, masks are readily available in a variety of materials and styles, but they do not all offer the same level of protection. When it comes to selecting a protective mask, follow these guidelines:
- Ensure accurate fit. Your nose and mouth should be completely covered, and the mask should fit snugly and not form gaps on the sides of your face or slide down below your nose when you move. Adults with small faces may get a better fit by selecting a mask designed for teens or by tying knots in the ends of the elastic ear loops to make the fit more snug.
- Select a breathable material. The goal of a mask is to allow the wearer to breathe while also preventing virus particles from being inhaled and prevent them from being leaked out. Select a mask constructed from two or more layers of breathable fabric (e.g. cotton vs. vinyl). Avoid masks with vents or exhalation valves as those can allow virus particles to leak out.
- Save N95 masks for healthcare workers. Supplies of N95 masks are not unlimited and the CDC recommends allocating them for those providing critical healthcare work.
No Mask, Single Mask or Double Mask?
As with any evolving situation, it is important to stay on top of the latest recommendations. In general, though, masks are recommended indoors (even for those who are fully vaccinated) in communities where COVID-19 numbers are high and/or for those who are considered to be at higher risk. Masking is also recommended in outdoor settings where people are in close proximity. Masking is required at this time for most public transportation (plane, train, bus or taxi service).
Double masking (adding a snugly fitting cloth mask over a surgical mask) can offer additional protection for high-risk situations, such as crowded malls, medical facilities or airports. The CDC does not recommend a face shield for extra protection at this time, as its effectiveness is not yet known.
A mask is generally not necessary outdoors in places where people are at least six feet apart. If you are out for a walk and unsure if you will encounter others, you may consider having a mask handy or even wearing it low around your chin so you can easily pull it up if you come into close proximity with another walker.
Find a Safe Haven
Getting vaccinated and wearing a mask are the two most effective means of stopping the spread of COVID-19. If you are ever in a situation where you are unsure if you should wear a mask, it is always best to err on the side of caution. At Lighthouse Senior Living we continually monitor the latest developments and recommendations and update our policies for receiving guests, social events, and dining accordingly. Our goal is to provide a vibrant and engaging, but safe, community for our residents. To learn more about our infection prevention practices contact us to schedule a virtual or in-person tour of our communities, located in Columbia-Ellicott City and Essex-Middle River.