Slow the spread, wear a high-quality mask

A woman protects herself by placing an N95 face mask over her nose and mouth.

After two years of fighting COVID-19, one big lesson we’ve learned is that good, snug masks can significantly slow the virus’ spread. Last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its masking recommendations to recommend N95 and KN95 masks over other types of masks. And this week, the White House announced that it will be sending 400 million masks to pharmacies and health centers around the country for people to pick up free of charge. 

The virus that causes COVID-19 travels in the air on droplets and particles that we release when we breathe, talk, cough or sneeze. High-quality respirator masks like N95s and KN95s are the most effective at blocking the smallest of those airborne particles. For the best protection, these masks must be worn properly.  

When you should wear a mask

  • In public indoor spaces (Oregon law currently mandates this) 
  • In crowded outdoor spaces where six feet of distance between you and others is not possible 
  • You test positive for COVID-19 and are around other people 
  • Someone in your home tests positive for COVID-19 
  • You’ve been exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID-19 and are around other people 

Tips for using a mask

  • When possible, wash your hands before putting on or taking off a mask. Do not use lotions or creams. 
  • Test the mask seal after you put on the mask. To do this, place both hands over the mask, take a quick inhale to check whether the mask seals tightly to the face. Then, place both hands completely over the mask and exhale. If you feel air escaping, adjust the nose piece or tightness of the straps and try again. If that still does not work, you might need a different mask that fits better. 
  • When removing the mask, try not to touch the front of it because there might be virus-filled particles there. 
  • These masks might not be leak-proof, so exercise extra caution especially when around someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. 
  • Do not wear a mask with a ventilator. The ventilator allows particles to flow in and out when you breathe, defeating the purpose of the mask. 

Reusing masks

  • N95 and KN95 masks can be worn for several hours a day for about a week, or until soiled or they no longer fit snugly. Between uses, store these masks in a dry place, like in a paper bag. Leaving them in the sun can help decontaminate them. 

N95 masks 

  • Position the mask over your nose and mouth with the nose piece at your fingertips. 
  • With your other hand, pull the straps over your head. The bottom strap goes below the ears, around the neck. The top goes at the top-back of your head. 
  • Press the nose piece down on both sides to mold it to the shape of your nose. 

KN95 masks 

KN95 masks are similar to N95 masks and are the most widely available masks that meet international regulations.  

  • Position the mask over your nose and mouth with the nose piece at your fingertips.
  • Put the side straps over each ear. 

Surgical masks 

  • Surgical masks are loose-fitting, disposable masks that should be worn only once. Because of their fit, surgical masks do not always block all the small particles that are released in the air when someone talks, coughs, or sneezes. For better protection, wear a cloth mask over a surgical mask.  
  • Put the surgical mask on first, then the cloth mask. 
  • Do not layer two surgical masks together. 
  • Make sure that the mask combination results in a better snug fit to the face. 

Masks for children

There are currently no N95 masks made in child sizes, but some KN95 masks come in smaller sizes. Kid sizes are easily found in disposable and cloth masks, and any mask is better than no mask. Make sure any mask your child wears fits snugly around the nose and mouth with no gaps. Children under two should not wear any masks.