- In light of new research, the CDC is once again emphasizing wearing a face mask with a proper fit and multiple layers to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
- Experts say if you have to keep adjusting your face mask, it’s not a good fit, increasing your risk of spreading or becoming infected with the novel coronavirus.
- Try these simple, 30-second tests to improve the fit of your face mask.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated its guidelines on how to ensure that your face mask offers the maximum amount of protection against COVID-19. While the recommendations aren’t a huge departure from previous guidelines, they are more specific.
One theme is consistent in the guidance: A proper fit is crucial. The CDC specifically recommends making sure your mask “fits snugly against your face” to help protect you and others from being exposed to respiratory droplets that could infect you with the novel coronavirus, especially as new, more contagious variants of the virus circulate across the country.
The emphasis on properly wearing a mask follows newly released research, which found that tying knots on the ear loops and tucking the sides of disposable masks and wearing fabric face coverings over surgical masks (a.k.a. double-masking), offers better protection against COVID-19 than a single-layer cloth covering or a poorly-fitted medical mask alone.
Remember: Your face mask is supposed to serve as a barrier. When it doesn’t fit well, “you’re not breathing through the mask—you’re breathing mostly around it,” says William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “And if you’re not breathing through your mask, viruses that may be in the air are free to infect you or others.”
How to make sure your face mask fits properly
Your face mask should have at least two layers of breathable fabric and should completely cover your nose and mouth, extend snugly across your cheeks, and fit under your chin, the CDC says. If you have to keep adjusting your mask, it’s not a good fit.
Unfortunately, there’s not a one-size-fits-all mask. “Each person has a different face profile,” says Juan Hinestroza, Ph.D., associate professor of fiber science at Cornell University. “There is not a mask that will fit everybody.”
But experts say there are a few things you can do to test the fit of your mask and adjust it accordingly. Just a heads up, per Hinestroza: The popular “candle test” (where you put on your mask to see if you can blow out a candle) isn’t one of them. While that will help you see if the fabric in your mask blocks air coming straight out of your mouth—it doesn’t detect the air that is seeping out of (or in through) the sides of your mask due to a bad fit.
It’s also important to be mindful of how your mask feels on your face. “Take your time when you’re putting it on—that’s the critical time,” Dr. Schaffner says, as you shouldn’t be fussing with your mask once it’s on your face. Try these tests at home to make sure your fit is up to par:
This can be an issue for people who have smaller facial profiles. “Feel around your mask to see how snugly it fits,” says Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Again, the mask should sit firmly across the bridge of your nose, the sides of your cheeks, and under your chin. If you can fit a finger in the sides of your mask, it’s not tight enough.
✔️ Fit check: To eliminate gaps, start with freshly washed hands. Then, fold your mask in half, tie a knot in each ear loop as close as possible to the corner of the mask, and then tuck the sides into it. The TikTok below from Olivia Cuid, M.D., a Montreal-based dentist, offers excellent step-by-step directions on how to do exactly that.
This content is imported from TikTok. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.
The air inside of your mask should feel warm against your skin, Dr. Schaffner says. If you’re feeling cooler air currents, there are either gaps in your mask or you don’t have enough layers in your mask to provide proper filtration.
✔️ Fit check: If you’ve already taken care of the gaps on the sides of your mask (or you didn’t have any to begin with), consider double-masking, especially if your are inside a high-risk area, like on a busy public bus or at a crowded grocery store. The CDC specifically recommends wearing a cloth face mask on top of a disposable surgical mask, allowing the bottom mask to act as a filter of sorts. It’s important to remember that you should always be able to see and breathe freely when wearing two face masks.
This is a common test that is done with N95 respirators to make sure they fit properly. Wearers are asked if they smell anything while using the mask. It’s unlikely that a cloth face mask will completely block your ability to smell things when you’re wearing it but “you will have a dampened sense of smell while wearing your mask,” Dr. Schaffner says.
✔️ Fit check: You can experiment by smelling a strong scent, like a lemon or orange, at arm’s length before you put on your mask. Then, smell again when you’re wearing your mask. The scent should at least be less potent if your mask has enough layers and a proper fit over the nose and mouth.
If you wear glasses, foggy lenses are an indicator that you don’t have a good fit around your nose, Hinestroza says. If you don’t have prescription eyeglasses at home, sunglasses can also work for this test. Simply put your mask on, breathe, and take a look at whether your glasses fog up.
✔️ Fit check: If you have foggy glasses, adjust the nose wire firmly across the bridge of your nose and tighten the straps to ensure there are no gaps in your mask between your cheeks and eyes. Still struggling? The CDC says you can also try using a mask fitter, a solid or silicone device worn over your mask (like this one) to help prevent air from seeping out through the edges. These should wrap around the outside of your mask, not fit on the inside like mask brackets, which experts do not currently recommend.
This article is accurate as of press time. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly evolves and the scientific community’s understanding of the novel coronavirus develops, some of the information may have changed since it was last updated. While we aim to keep all of our stories up to date, please visit online resources provided by the CDC, WHO, and your local public health department to stay informed on the latest news. Always talk to your doctor for professional medical advice.
Go here to join Prevention Premium (our best value, all-access plan), subscribe to the magazine, or get digital-only access.
FOLLOW PREVENTION ON INSTAGRAM
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io