5 Face Mask Mistakes That Increase the Spread of COVID-19

These mistakes put you *and* others in danger.

Loading the player...

As the months have passed, it has become increasingly clear that cloth face coverings are an essential part of curbing the spread of COVID-19. While they’re not a bulletproof defense, they do lower the risk of transmission. However, some common face mask mistakes may thwart your efforts and increase the risk of COVID-19 spread.

MISTAKE #1: Wearing a mask that doesn’t fit well.

The purpose of the mask is to contain your respiratory droplets—as much as possible—while you exhale, talk, and cough. Your cloth face covering should fit snugly on all sides without big gaps. Otherwise, respiratory droplets can easily escape through the gaps.

MISTAKE #2: Frequently touching or adjusting your mask.

This is another reason it’s important to have a mask that fits. Otherwise, you’ll constantly have to touch and fidget with it. Here’s the problem: This may transfer infectious germs to your hands, which may cause you to contaminate other things you touch.

If you must touch your mask, wash or sanitize your hands afterwards.

MISTAKE #3: Not covering your mouth and nose.

It may feel good to set your nose free—but your nose also emits infectious droplets. Wearing the cloth face covering below your noise defeats the purpose of the mask altogether.

MISTAKE #4: Pulling off the mask to talk, cough, or sneeze.

At the beginning of August 2020, a coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers pulled down his mask to cough during an interview. The moment went viral as a prime example of what not to do when wearing a face mask.

Coughing, sneezing, and talking expel respiratory droplets more than just breathing. Arguably, this is when it is most important to wear your mask (and keep it over your mouth and nose).

MISTAKE #5: Wearing a mask with an exhalation valve.

These valves are meant to make breathing easier. They typically filter air that gets inhaled, but not the air that gets exhaled. These types of masks are useful for construction workers, for example, since they filter out sawdust or other particles, while allowing the user to exhale comfortably.

However, masks with exhalation valves are not ideal for containing the spread of a viral respiratory infection. If the wearer is unknowingly infected with COVID-19, they will easily exhale infectious droplets through the valve.

What About Gaiters?

You may have heard something about neck gaiters and their effectiveness. They are made of a blend of spandex and polyester, which some worry may not be as effective as cotton.

Studies have been controversial with mixed results, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that “evaluation is on-going” as of September 2020. For extra caution, consider using a cotton cloth face covering for riskier activities, such as grocery shopping.

Want more info on COVID-19 prevention?