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The Best Masks for Every Situation, According to Health Experts | Elemental – Elemental

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What are epidemiologists, virologists, and doctors putting on their (and their families’) faces in day-to-day life?

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Photo: CasarsaGuru/Getty Images

As masks have become as critical to people’s daily routines as brushing their teeth and grabbing their keys — per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “cloth face coverings are a critical tool in the fight against Covid-19” — it’s also become clear that not all masks are created equal. And with so many options hitting the market, it can be hard to decide what kind to buy and wear, especially since masks that are excellent for one activity can be uncomfortable for others. Here’s what coronavirus experts are wearing in their own lives.

For all-day use: A comfortable cloth or surgical mask (and possibly a few of them)

“I wear a cloth or surgical mask (if I have one available) whenever I’m out in public. This is for source control — to reduce the number of respiratory droplets I’m producing during breathing or speaking,” says Angela Rasmussen, MD, a virologist at Columbia University in New York. “This is to be courteous to my fellow citizens, as data is unclear about the protective benefit these masks offer the wearer, but if everyone is wearing masks, that reduces the number of potentially infectious respiratory droplets that everyone in a location could be exposed to.”

Renee Matthews, MD, a medical educator and the host of Outcome Health’s waiting room TV show Out of Office With Dr. Renee, opts for a handmade cotton mask with a pocket for an additional filter, which she purchased from Etsy.

“I live in a high-rise building and wear my mask in community spaces when I’m doing laundry, getting the mail, or taking out the trash,” Matthews says. “The biggest thing you want to consider when choosing a mask is finding one that’s comfortable so you’re more likely to wear it,” Matthews says. “Mine goes from the top of my nose to under my chin, covering everything. It’s a snug fit.”

If you’re out of your house for most of the day, you may want to consider taking multiple masks with you, according to Eleanor Murray, MD, an epidemiology assistant professor at Boston University School of Health.

“If you’re going to be taking off your mask to have coffee or to have lunch, you may want to have a fresh mask. The old one is dirty now, and it’d be better to put it in a plastic bag to take home for washing,” says Murray. “The mask is really the last line of defense. So if you’re able to be further apart from people, then a thin mask is okay. But if you’re going to be crammed in together in an office setting, you want to wear a thicker mask with more effective filtration.”

“The biggest thing you want to consider when choosing a mask is finding one that’s comfortable so you’re more likely to wear it.”

For exercising: A mask made with performance fabric

If you’re exercising outside of your home, you probably need to wear a mask. Murray recommends masks made with sweat-wicking material that capture moisture and pull it away from your skin. Adidas sells a three-pack of face covers for $16, made with washable, breathable fabric.

It’s not always comfortable to keep a mask on while exercising, especially in hot weather, but do your best when other people are around — and if you can find a less-crowded area to run in, it’s okay to take it off temporarily, Murray says: “Think about where you’re running. It’s better to wear the mask to get to where you’re going, and if there aren’t a lot of people around, you could run without the mask.”

For kids: Fun colors and patterns (with names and initials written inside)

Many questions linger about schools reopening, but it’s clear that masks will be critical for any kids in a classroom setting. “It’s best to get them used to wearing it now while they’re not in school,’’ says Matthews. “You can start for a few hours a day and then work them up to wearing a mask the whole day. Try to make them fun. My mask has an Antiguan flag on it, and it’s a beautiful vibrant flag. I like bright colors, and children feel the same way.”

You’ll also want to ensure to write the child’s name or initials on their mask so as not to get it mixed up with other students, Matthew suggests.

“By the time fall comes around, wearing a mask all day won’t be such a big deal,” she shares. “But make sure it’s something they like.”

As for what type of masks children should wear once they’re back in school, Murray says there’s “not really one answer.” “Some schools have plenty of space for kids to spread out, and others have the kids packed in like sardines, so which mask is appropriate for which setting will depend on how close the students are to each other, how long they’re in contact with one another, and if they’re mixing with different groups of students.”

Roohi Jeelani, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist at Vios Fertility in Chicago, whose children are ages seven and six, has made wearing a mask a family affair.

“We’ve gotten masks at Target, Carter’s, and Janie and Jack: The ones they make are very cute,” she says. “It’s hard because kids innately touch their mouths all the time. The toughest part is educating them without overdoing it. You don’t want to make them paranoid, but you have to tell them you can’t get too close and touch your face because it could make you sick.”

For special needs: A transparent mask

While plastic or clear face masks aren’t as commonplace, they are necessary for the Deaf community and hard of hearing as well as for those assisting them. There are a few options: ClearMask is a transparent single-use mask that retails for $96 for a box of 24, and FDA-registered The Communicator Surgical Mask goes for $60 for 40 masks (currently on backorder). And the Hearing, Speech & Deaf Center provides a low-cost DIY alternative with a handy step-by-step tutorial.

Unfortunately, face shields aren’t a substitute for masks. “Face shields seem appealing, but the problem with face shields is they don’t actually block the airflow. They mostly just block splatter,” Murrays says. “So if you’re going to be wearing a shield, you’ll want to keep a distance of more than six feet. This is a big challenge, and I’d like to see some innovation on the market for this. We’re going to be wearing masks for some time to come, so some solution that allows us to see people’s faces and provide protection from airborne spread is important.”

For traveling: An N95 or KN95 mask and a face shield

“If you’re getting on a plane, I highly recommend you wear an N95 mask,” Matthews says.

Rasmussen, however, maintains that N95 masks should be reserved for health care workers. The KN95, the Chinese standard for masks, can be used as a substitute for N95 masks and are available on Amazon ranging in price from $30 for a pack of 10 to $116 for a box of 50. While there are slight differences between the two, the CDC has determined KN95 masks are similar to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) N95.

Consider eye protection too, Matthews suggests: “If you don’t wear glasses, consider wearing a face shield or goggles on the plane to protect your eyes as well.” And remember to keep your mask on for the entire flight.

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