Why and when you should wear a mask, how to use them, and which ones are best

April 17, 2020 • 8:30 am

The time may be coming, especially if various parts of the US open up, that we will be required to wear masks outside at all times. Right now I wear mine when I go to stores, and sometimes when I’m meeting people for infrequent socially-distanced conversations.  The New York Times “users guide” below tells you why you should wear one (a good reason is that some carriers are asymptomatic), but it’s not clear that, if you’re like me and stay well away from anyone outdoors, why you need to wear them when you’re just walking about. But I found the article useful; for one thing, it approves of the use of some homemade fabric masks.

I have three types of masks, which I show below. The first two types I found by scrounging through my lab; I never used them, but suspect that they were used when people working there mixed chemicals or used hazardous solution.

The first one is my “heavy duty” mask, which I wear to the grocery store. I then remove it carefully (washing my hands before and after, as the article specifies) and put it in an isolated place to disinfect for a week. I have only a couple of these and thus have to save and re-use them:

This is the type of mask described in the article as a “surgical” or “medical” mask. I have only a few of these as well, and keep them in my car (along with latex gloves, paper towels, and isopropyl alcohol) to use in emergency situations. They are flimsy, so I discard them after use.

Our department thoughtfully provided each of us with one of these heavy-duty fabric masks. They have two layers of heavy fabric and cloth ties, and have the enormous advantage of being washable, which renders them virus-free (use soap and hot water). I’ve used this one infrequently, as I’m saving it as my “go to” mask when I run out of the others.

I’m not sure if you can buy these kinds of masks in stores; I suspect that if you can, they’re unavailable, just like any sanitizing agent.

You can, of course, make homemade masks, and here’s a good YouTube video from the Surgeon General about how to make one from a tee-shirt (or other fabric) and two rubber bands—no sewing required.  I’m sure this mask is just as effective (if not as aesthetic) as my fabric mask above, so long as you make sure there are several layers. But do read the article above, for the time may be coming when all of us will need masks when we leave our homes—for any reason. (Note, though, that the article says you don’t need masks when exercising outdoors: running and the like.)

64 thoughts on “Why and when you should wear a mask, how to use them, and which ones are best

  1. Why does the picture for the article show some diversity but no old men (white and/or black) who are the most vulnerable group?

      1. Yes, remember, that clown in the white house does not give two shits if you die. Just get back to work and get his numbers up.

      2. Not to mention invisible.

        Wasn’t that long ago, when walking down the street, I’d get at least a glance and a once-over, if not a nod and a smile, from an attractive woman walking in the opposite direction. I always assumed that was just the natural order of things, until it stopped happening.

              1. These comments made me think of this – a slowed down set of clips from Unsolved Mysteries where Jonathan Frakes sounds like, as one poster put it, “a depressed drunk on the sidewalk trying to get your attention”. I especially laughed at “would you display this as a trophy?”. Enjoy! https://youtu.be/5uC8mRy2p9w

        1. This is so weird but this started happening to me recently. Maybe four times and odd. I think I know why now. It’s because with the mask, my glasses were fogging up. I always take them off now when I wear my mask. Weird still, though.

        2. Invisible?
          Mr Trump: white male, 70+; Mr Biden, white male, 70+; Mr Sanders, white male, 70+, Mr McConnell white male, 70+, Mr Roberts, white male, 70+; Mr Putin, white male, close to 70; Mr Barr, white male, 70 in just over a month; etc. etc.
          They are all over the news.

          1. Seriously? Don’t you think that has more to with their being famous politicians rather than the fact that they are old men?

            As an old(ish) man I can attest that we are invisible but when detected, we are detested and not wanted.

    1. Because as you age you slowly lose value and disappear from society. Women go earlier because after 30 we hit our expiry date but you start to see less and less representation in advertising and you also start seeing less and less of people past the age of 60 out in public so you fade from the public consciousness. It’s very sad. Our culture does not value people who are not youthful. This pandemic has made that even more clear and I really think it’s a dark stain on our culture vs Asian cultures and Indigenous cultures.

      1. About 13 years ago, I had reason to visit
        a large, indoor shopping mall in the early morning hours, before any shops opened. I was astonished to find it filled with old
        people, walking stolidly up and down. At first, I thought I had stumbled upon Limbo, the anteroom to Heaven where the departed wait for entry. But then I observed that the senior citizens walking up and down the mall were still alive, more or less. It was just the place where senior citizens are stored by our society—and where they all went to get exercise in rainy weather. I would start going there too—except that it has been “upgraded” by developers, and is out of use.

        1. I’ve seem that too – good for them. The place is open but stores are mostly closed. The employees are busy within, stocking etc. That means usually some places like Au Bon Pain are probably open, for the post-exercise coffee and cinnamon comestibles.

        2. Ha ha – limbo. Yes, there are a lot of seniors walking groups in the early mornings as well. Back in the 80s and 90s my grandfather, retired early from a steel mill job, used to meet all his retired buddies at the mall and he walked all over it for exercise every day.

        3. So now the malls are “God’s waiting room”? Used to be, they said that about St. Petersburg, Fla, with all its green park benches. 🙂

          1. Absofookinlutely. I know for a fact that every time I was left waiting (seems always on a beautiful sunny day) in one of those damn places, it most definitely felt like purgatory.

    2. I find much of this thread misconceived.

      First, those 70+ (and I am one) are the most vulnerable, to death, in any circumstances. Other than perhaps the very young.

      Then, however much or little we have each achieved, we have largely shot our lot by 70+. How much world-class work has ever been done thereafter?

      Wisdom? We like to think. Or more rigid thinking? Not me, of course!

      Nicholas points out people in power. To which in the US you could add Schumer (69), Warren (70), Hillary (72), Pelossi (80). Power is something you want to hang on to. If you have it.

      Actual power? 35,43,46,47,59. And 66. The first, runners of US Hi-Tech companies. The last, president of China.

      Some talk of ‘invisibility’. So what? Pop culture values the up-and-coming and good luck to them. On the street? I should be so lucky!

      Diana raises the matter of Elders in Indigenous cultures. Useful, I suggest, if illiterate and having no other way of recording knowledge. But now they do?

      And who governs the Elders?

      Certainly I hope not to die in this epidemic, and I am doubtful I will. I believe numbers will be much smaller than the direst predictions. I may be wrong.

      But, weighing things up, I think if I were 25 today, I would have much more to contribute to a better society than I have at 75 today.

      1. So you seem to be in an agreement that once you pass a certain age (females about 30 and males probably about 60) you are useless, should be ignored or at worst disposed of (Logan’s Run)? And the reason elders are valued in indigenous cultures is because they are illiterate? How does that explain now? I think they all can read. Evolution would seem to disagree with you for if we were truly disposable or of no value we would all cease to exist after reproductive age and we seem to go on even in pre-industralized cultures. Either way, you seem to fit quite well in our current youth centred culture but I don’t know why you think we should care what you say as you are most likely too old for your opinion to matter.

      2. Some talk of ‘invisibility’. So what?

        Hell, I’m not bitchin’ about being invisible. C’est la vie, say the old folks. Goes to show you never can tell.

        Plus, I’ve got my memories to keep me warm.

  2. We also carry the gloves and masks in the car and use them to enter any store. Everyone looks like an amateur bank robber. I think if some places open up too quickly you will want to wear them more. The testing here is still very poor

  3. I started wearing a mask a couple of weeks ago in case I might be asymptomatic. Maybe a week or so ago, people haven’t been allowed in grocery stores, the post office, the Home Depot etc. without a mask. No mask, no entrance or service.

  4. I’ve seen some clever styles too. It’ll be fun to watch how creative people will get.

    Not to be to much of a negative-nellie, but masks are not really very helpful in protecting the wearer unless they fit very well. So please, don’t rely on them for YOUR safety. Home made masks do help against snot blasts, which reduces the risk to others and they’re not entirely useless if they don’t fit well. Just don’t count on them; studies have shown that if they don’t fit well most of the air, including the aerosols, goes through the gaps not the mask.

    Gloves can protect you only if you never touch your face, you remove them properly and then wash your hands. Otherwise think of your fingers as butter knives spreading contamination over everything.

    1. Yes, you are actually protecting others rather than yourself with a mask. But if people knew that, many wouldn’t bother. Especially Republicans. 😀

    2. And the virus is small enough that it will go through the fabric anyway even if it is fitted well.

  5. These masks, without a face shield are mainly good for protecting others from infection. If you are unfortunate and someone coughs or sneezes towards you (latest studies show droplets can fly outwards by 6 m or more) you need a face shield to give some protection through coverage of eye mucous membranes.

  6. I wear a mask when partaking of “essential services” — going to the grocery store, for example, or engaging in a rasslin’ match — but not when I’m out on the street taking my morning constitutional.

    There aren’t many of us in town out on the streets these days, and those of us that are have no problem in keeping our distance. Still, I keep a mask stashed in a cargo pocket in case of an emergency.

    1. You take your morning constitutional on the street? The “Florida Man” headline practically writes itself.

      1. Well, THAT type of “constitutional” I take — Florida Man though I be — in somewhat more private circumstances. It’s as to the other type of “constitutional” that I take it to the streets. 🙂

  7. Don’t forget

    All the particles that are relevant are accumulating on areas other that that covered by the mask. Consider the long hair everyone has now, collecting particles. When the mask is taken off the head, the straps and mask – especially a real tight one – will feather the hair, making the particles airborne, at precisely the worst time and place : when the mask is off and the particles are in a cloud around the head.

    So I guess – breathe out when taking it off.

      1. I know that, Torbjorn but I’m not willing to wait for the science (the data) to catch up to the current direness of our reality. I’m taking care of someone who’s very much at risk and must take an overabundance of precautions. I know the cloth mask won’t protect me from the virus, but I haven’t received my N95 masks yet. Social distancing continues to be de rigueur for us here at home.

  8. My six year old makes disposable masks: 3 serviettes folded open, folds them in an accordion and 2 hair elastic bands, and voilà.
    Simple asks do mot just reduce the chance of the wearer infecting others, but it reduces the contamination of surfaces which we touch with our hands (and they give some minor personal protection too)

    1. Most often masks increase risk for the wearer by virus transfer, since it is complicated to handle them properly.

      1. I’m suspicious about that. The authorities came out with a bunch of reasons to protect the small supply for medical professionals. How complicated can it be? If your talking about N95, you’d want a hermetically sealed perimeter which implies enough tightness to give you facial bruises after a day’s use. Most people are going to use a lower tier mask, which would just deflect their own coughs and sneezes.

  9. None of these pictures show folks with glasses. Any but the best face-form-fitting ones fog glasses. The homemade cloth ones and the simple lets-knock-over-a-liquor-store bandannas, like I wore yesterday to virtue flaunt at the grocery store, make it frequently difficult to see. And getting plastic veggie bags open without finger licking was fun. Had to wait for the storm-spray event at the Belgian endive bin. And why do single drivers in their cars wear masks?

    1. “And why do single drivers in their cars wear masks”

      Because it’s part of their sweet style, Chewy, part of their sweet style.

  10. I have a kit to sew masks hopefully showing up sometime & some already made masks on the way. I want to wear them because I can speak moistly that way. I actually have the various non auto-tune versions in my head right now and have had them in there for days. At least I know “cough into your arm, keep two meters a part” so it’s a good way to remember the rules.

      1. I did too. I texted it to my friends when he said it, especially when he realized how bad his word choice was and said “ugh what an awful image”. I actually like the one version near the bottom by the singer in Hamilton. Those versions aren’t auto-tuned and are really preformed.

      2. I’ll be sewing some cloth masks as well when I have time. (Well, I spend too much time anyway, watching COVID-19 news, and then getting very sad about the old folks in those long-term care homes and the other horrendous humanitarian disasters taking place globally.)

        1. Yes that’s awful about the LTC facilities especially in Quebec. Seems like medics from the armed forces are going there now to help out.

  11. ImagineMD is publishing periodic updates on Coronavirus. The latest installment deals with mask use and other issues. They use some basic math to determine likelihoods, but the BOTTOM LINE, and CONCLUSION paragraphs provide a math-free summary of their work.

  12. Well, I’m glad that was prefaced with US use!

    The recommendations here is to keep social distancing, not touch the face and hand wash regularly. And – if infected of anything – stay indoors.

    So no need for a mask among the public. (Health care is different, obviously.)

    Totally taken from memory of what our authority (Folkhälsomyndigheten) has said in press conferences, so you may want to check any of it:

    – It is uncertain if masks do anything to stop any epidemic.

    [Frankly, their out-of-medicine use reminds me of medieval masks. The likely effect is simply to make the wearer feel better.]

    – If misused, masks are likely to transfer virus.

    – There seems to be no science that say cloth masks stop anything at all.

    1. “… and hand wash regularly.” And sneeze in your arm, not your hand.

      [I tend to forget that rule, since I’ve implemented it many years. Seemed like a neat idea at the time, now very much so!]

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