Mask-Wearing Advice from an Expert
With mask mandates in place in many states, a plethora of facial covering options have surfaced. But is mask-wearing effective? And which kind should you choose? We asked practicing pediatrician and public health advocate Dr. Dipesh Navsaria to give us his expert advice on masks and their effectiveness in protecting you and others. Here’s what he had to say.
How effective is mask-wearing at preventing the spread of COVID-19?
Our messaging on masks has changed since the pandemic began, for a few reasons. Initially there was a feeling that masks weren’t useful. At that time, we weren’t actually completely sure how much of the virus was spread through the air versus surfaces, handshakes, or hugs. Staying 6 feet away from people and isolating yourself at home is the most effective strategy, so that’s what we were focusing our energy on having people practice. We also were seeing severe mask shortages, and that was affecting us in healthcare, where we have no choice but to be up close near ill people. We had people buying up and hoarding N95 masks, and even theft occurring in health care facilities.
We now have really good evidence from big-population data that there’s much more airborne spread of this virus than we initially recognized. We can compare states that implemented a mask mandate to states that didn’t. In states with mask mandates, we saw massive plummets in infection rates, simply on the basis of that one policy change.
Masks aren’t perfect, but they reduce spread by quite a bit.
Which masks are most effective?
The conclusion has been that most face coverings, including gaiters and other masks, are fine. If you’re not sure about a mask, the best test is to hold it up to the light and see how much you can see through it. If you see quite a bit of light coming through, there are significant holes. Another test is to use a lighter or a candle. Hold up the mask and see if you can blow out the candle. If you can, the mask is letting too much air through.
Three layers of thin, tightly woven fabric are usually effective. But, even masks that aren’t so great are going to help with reduction of transmission.
How effective are face shields at preventing the spread of COVID-19?
Face shields are generally meant to be worn in conjunction with a face mask to protect your entire face, including your eyes, from airborne droplets, and can also keep the outside of your mask from getting contaminated and needing frequent changing.
There are some instances where someone might want another person to be able to see their facial movements, such as when conversing with someone who is hard of hearing and lip reads. In this case, face shields can then serve as an alternative to traditional masks. You can also use a mask that has a clear window in it for these types of situations. Do keep in mind that both face shields and clear-window masks can make it difficult to hear the person wearing them, and they may not be as comfortable, depending on the construction. However, everyone’s faces and heads are different, and what doesn’t work for one person might work for another. Your best bet is to find what works well for you and your specific situation.