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How your face mask helps to protect yourself and others

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Nearly overnight, face masks have become symbols of civic duty as more and more states, cities, and towns are making mask-wearing in public mandatory. Currently, New Yorkers unable to maintain social distancing guidelines must wear a face mask, and Los Angeles has mandated that all shoppers in stores and workers wear face coverings. In Miami, face coverings must be worn by anyone going into pharmacies, restaurants, grocery stores, and any other retail space. But even if wearing face masks in all public places is not yet mandatory in every town, we all should heed the compelling reasons for wearing them.

Just three weeks ago, the sight of people wearing face masks in public may have struck some of us in the US as a little bit eccentric and foreign, if not downright overkill. Now, with nearly 2.5 confirmed cases of the coronavirus worldwide and over 789,000 in the US alone, face masks have quickly become ubiquitous both in public and in ecommerce.

Why is wearing face coverings so important with this virus?

The coronavirus is new to us, and our immune systems have not yet had a chance to build defenses. Most of us have some protection from the average seasonal flu because we’ve been exposed previously or had flu shots. No one has been immunized against coronavirus. Consider as well that a normal flu season is spread over several months, but coronavirus has quickly infected groups of people resulting in over tens of thousands of cases in a matter of weeks.

It is estimated that 25 percent of people infected with the virus may not feel sick but still are contagious. So, even if you feel healthy, you need to protect yourself and others in fighting the spread of infectious germs. Common sense dictates that if simply covering our faces, along with equally simple, diligent hand-washing reduces the rate of the virus’ spread, we should do it.

To wear or not to wear a face mask?

While there is some controversy about the efficacy of different face masks—from N95 respirators to re-purposed T-shirts—even the simplest mask can be very effective in containing any offending droplets from sneezes or coughs. That’s great for protecting those around you from your germs, but keeping yourself safe from incoming germs may require better fitting equipment than what can be made at home with fabric. However, practicing proper social distancing and washing your hands thoroughly frees up the highest rated equipment for those working directly in the trenches.

To increase the efficiency of your face mask, always wash your hands before putting it on. Because the fabric part of the mask collects the germs, avoid touching it. Instead, use the ear loops to put it on and take it off. To be effective, the mask should reach from the bridge of the nose to under the chin and stretch nearly to the ears, but even a few folds of fabric is better than nothing.

Most of us don’t have much control over Covid19, but wearing personal protective equipment is one way we each slow the spread, one mask at a time.

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