It is the official recommendation of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control that people wear cloth face coverings over their nose and mouth in public settings where it’s difficult to maintain social distancing measures.
But do you need some special surgical mask for it to be effective? Or can you simply tie a bandana around your face like a bandit from the Old West? When should they be worn? And should everyone wear one?
We can help. Here are some answers to your basic mask questions.
Do I have to wear a mask?
The CDC says masks and face coverings are advised to “slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.”
Some U.S. states and cities also issued executive orders that require masks in certain areas and situations, like grocery stores or pharmacies. And many places of business won’t let customers in unless they are wearing a face covering.
Make sure you know the rules where you live and at your favorite businesses before heading out.
When should I wear a mask?
Masks or face coverings are recommended (or required) any time you go out in public where social distancing is difficult to maintain, in enclosed spaces, or when you’ll be in close proximity to people outside of your own household.
Recommendations about wearing masks while running or walking outside vary. But some experts say if you are running or walking in a congested area, like a popular boardwalk, it’s a good idea to wear a mask if you are able.
You should always wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before putting on your mask. Once you’re wearing it, the CDC recommends leaving it on the entire time you are in the situation and not touching it, putting it around your neck or up on your forehead.
Who should wear a mask?
Everyone over the age of 2 should wear a mask if they are medically able, according to the CDC. If people have trouble breathing, they should not wear one.
And masks should not be placed on people who are “unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance,” the CDC website reads.
How do I take off my mask?
When you’re ready to take it off, the CDC recommends handling the mask only by the ties or ear loops. Treat it as a contaminated item until it can be put in the wash. (Regular washing should be enough to sanitize it for your next use.)
Then, you guessed it, wash your hands again or use hand sanitizer.
Do I need a surgical mask?
No. In fact, the CDC specifically asks the general public not to seek out surgical masks or N-95 respirators because those are critical supplies for frontline workers.
In an effort to help fight the coronavirus and flatten the curve at area hospitals, many people with sewing skills began churning out homemade masks to sell or donate. And an online search reveals a plethora of options if you want to buy one.
How to make a face mask
But the CDC also offers instructions (click here!) to make your own face coverings, whether you can use a sewing machine or not. For those without sewing skills, all you need is a bandana or square scarf and rubber bands or a t-shirt and some scissors.
If possible, the CDC recommends that your face covering fit snugly against the side of your face and along your nose while still allowing you to breathe freely.
Bottom line: Something is better than nothing.