Coronavirus Face Masks & Protection FAQs
July 17, 2020
From Johns Hopkins Medicine:
ew information is emerging every day on how the new coronavirus spreads and the best ways to protect against COVID-19. The most effective protections include washing your hands frequently with soap and water and practicing physical distancing. However, wearing cloth face masks or coverings in public when physical distancing can't be observed does offer protection against spread of COVID-19.
Lisa Maragakis, M.D., M.P.H., an expert in infection prevention, provides guidance based on Johns Hopkins Medicine policy.
Should I wear a face mask or covering for coronavirus protection?
Yes, if you are in a public place where you will encounter other people, you should wear a mask.
How do you properly wear a face mask?
Your mask should cover your face from the bridge of your nose to under your chin. It should be loose fitting but still secure enough to stay in place. Make sure you can talk with your mask on and that it doesn't irritate you, so you are not tempted to touch it or pull it out of place, which could put you at risk from touching your face or limit its effectiveness.
Can a face mask prevent coronavirus from spreading?
Face masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Because it's possible to have coronavirus without showing symptoms, it is best to wear a face covering even if you think you are healthy. A mask helps contain small droplets that come out of your mouth and/or nose when you talk, sneeze or cough. If you have COVID-19 and are not showing symptoms, a face mask reduces your chance of spreading the infection to others. If you are healthy, a mask may protect you from larger droplets from people around you.
Different levels of masks are appropriate for different situations and needs. At Johns Hopkins Medicine, we currently require everyone entering our facilities to wear a mask, with the exception of children under 2.
Here is how masks help prevent spread of COVID-19.
Masks for the Public
According to the CDC, recent studies indicate a significant portion of people who have COVID-19 don't show symptoms, and the virus can spread before they realize they are sick. This research -- combined with the fact that the coronavirus can spread through close proximity to others, often by speaking, coughing or sneezing -- led to their recommendation for the general public to wear cloth masks in public, especially in situations where physical distancing may be difficult, such as grocery stores or on public transportation, and in areas where there is a significant amount of community transmission.
Some states now require face masks in retail stores and on public transportation. In Maryland, face masks or coverings have been required in retail stores and on public transportation since April 18.
People with risk factors for severe consequences of COVID-19: This would include people over age 65 and those living with heart disease, diabetes, obesity, chronic lung disease, immunity problems or cancer.
While physical distancing and frequent handwashing are the best ways to protect against COVID-19, you should check with your doctor about the best option for you. Johns Hopkins Medicine offers these directions for a homemade mask and child-size masks, intended for use in non-patient care settings.
Masks for COVID-19 Patients and Their Caregivers
In order to protect from the spread of droplets, a surgical or cloth mask should be worn in a home setting by those with COVID-19 when they are around others. If the person who is ill is unable to wear a mask, their caregiver should wear one. Patients being treated in hospital settings will follow hospital guidelines.
Many websites offer guidelines on how to make a cloth mask. Johns Hopkins Medicine offers these directions for a homemade mask and child size masks for non-patient care settings.
Masks and Other Protective Equipment for Health Care Workers
Health care workers testing and treating patients for COVID-19: Anyone interacting directly with people ill or suspected to be ill with COVID-19 need professional respirators, such as N95 respirators, which are designed for medical use. N95 respirators fit the face snugly and filter the air to stop respiratory droplets from getting through or around the device. In addition, our care teams treating patients with COVID-19 wear added protective gear, including face shields that protect the eyes, nose and mouth from contamination from respiratory droplets, along with masks or respirators.
Health care workers in patient areas, but not working directly with COVID-19 patients: Procedural, surgical and cloth face masks are being used to help guard against the possible spread of COVID-19. These masks don't have a tight seal and are made of different types of materials.
Similar to influenza and other respiratory viruses, the virus that causes COVID-19 appears to be transmitted primarily through large respiratory droplets. Surgical or procedural masks provide protection against respiratory droplet spread.
While cloth masks are not medical-grade, they may be helpful in non-patient settings to contain coughs and to remind people to not touch their face, but they are not suitable for providing medical care to patients.