As COVID cases continue to rise, following recommendations by health officials is necessary to protect yourself from the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has long touted the importance of wearing a mask while in public to curb the spread of COVID, but they've also issued more specific guidance than that. In fact, the CDC explicitly says that it is important for people to carry "one or more replacement masks." Read on to find out why the CDC says you should carry at least two face masks with you at all times right now, and for more mask guidance, The CDC Warns Against Using These 6 Face Masks.
The CDC says you should carry at least two masks with you.
Based on CDC recommendations, you should always have a minimum of two masks with you: one that you're wearing, and one or more that you're carrying as possible replacements. Health experts agree that having a backup mask is a smart choice.
"When sneezing or coughing, it's best to do so in a mask to prevent your droplets from becoming airborne and spreading to someone else," explains Jay Woody, MD, the chief medical officer of Intuitive Health and founder of Legacy ER&Urgent Care. "Have a backup mask on hand to switch them out so you're not wearing a covering that is covered in droplets." And for more sensible mask tips, Doing This to Your Mask Could Keep You Even Safer From COVID, Experts Say.
Masks can get dirty or wet, which makes them less effective.
Roopa Kalyanaraman Marcello, MPH, a senior director of research and evaluation at NYC Health and Hospitals, says that it is "always a good idea to have an extra mask" with you when you're out in public, as your original mask could get dirty or wet. As the CDC notes, your mask is less effective in these conditions.
There are two major issues when it comes to a dirty or wet mask, according to Beth Beatriz, PhD, an epidemiologist and public health expert for Parenting Pod. "The first is simple. Dirty or wet masks are more likely to break down and are less likely to fit properly on your face," she explains. "The second is that it is harder for air to pass through dirty or wet masks and provide the necessary filtration. So when they are dirty or wet, you are more likely to breathe through the sides of your mask, which won't provide you with the necessary protection." And for more up-to-date information, sign up for our daily newsletter.
And masks are more likely to get wet during the winter.
In terms of wet masks, the CDC says this scenario is likelier to occur in cold weather, as your mask could become wet from "breathing, snow, or other precipitation." That's why they emphasize the importance of carrying two with you in the winter.
But your mask can get soiled regardless of the weather. According to Marcello, your mask could become dirty in any number of ways, including accidentally dropping it on the ground or touching it after touching a high-touch surface like a door handle or elevator button.
"In any of those instances, your mask may have picked up particles containing the coronavirus and potentially other harmful viruses or bacteria, which, if put near your mouth and nose, can lead to infection," Marcello says. And for more essential mask advice, If You Have This Mask, Get a New One Now, Experts Say.
If you're replacing your mask, make sure you're doing so carefully.
If your mask has gotten wet or dirty, you need to take it off carefully. When retiring the mask you're wearing and replacing it with a backup, you should take the mask off and place it in a plastic bag or container, Marcello says. The CDC also has guidelines on safely removing your mask.
If you accidentally touch the inside of your mask with unwashed hands, you should not reuse that mask, Woody says. After all, this can give the virus direct access to your mouth and nose. And for more ways to keep yourself healthy, Dr. Fauci Says You Need One of These at Home to Avoid COVID