Some areas are slowly starting to ease restrictions put into place at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. That means even the strictest followers of rules and regulations may be finding themselves going out more. If you are required to go back into work or your kids can return to school, you may be looking for answers and advice on how, when and why you need to wear a mask when you leave the house.
Wearing a mask is the most important thing you can do to limit the spread of COVID-19 in your community. Masks can give you greater freedom, but can also, in many ways, cause anxiety for some.
Kiranmayi Korimerla, M.D., at Kadlec in Richland, WA answers commonly asked questions about wearing a mask.
How do I wear a mask safely?
A mask may seem like something you just put on and take off, but believe it or not, there are a few specific steps you can take to make your mask as effective as possible in reducing your chances of spreading germs. These include:
- Wash your hands before putting on your mask
- Fasten (and remove) by the straps or ties
- Make sure it covers your nose, mouth and reaches under your chin
- Avoid touching the mask once you have it on
- Wash your mask after each use
Learn how to safely handle a mask.
Does a mask really reduce the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19?
In a word – yes. “Wearing a mask is a simple solution that has shown to reduce the spray of droplets that carry the virus,” states Dr. Korimerla.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all people 2 years of age and older wear a mask in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household. There are a few exceptions on who should not wear a mask, including those who have trouble breathing.
Wearing a mask becomes even more important as states and local governments ease the restrictions on places we can go, and the number of people allowed in a given area.
What type of mask is best to wear?
All masks are not created equal when it comes to protecting you from COVID-19 germs and reducing your risk of spreading them. The CDC has found the most effective masks include:
- Homemade masks (with two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric)
- Dust masks (without a valve or vent)
- Surgical masks
- N95 masks (without a valve or vent)
The CDC has found that certain masks, including those with valves and vents, might allow virus particles to escape – increasing the risk that you infect those around you or become sick yourself. This is why Providence requires all visitors to wear an approved face covering when visiting our facilities.
How can I help my child get comfortable wearing a mask?
Children (and even some adults) may be uncomfortable with the idea of wearing a mask. This can be particularly true for children who are very young, are struggling with sensory processing or have ADHD, an autism spectrum disorder or another behavioral issue.
For most children, wearing a mask around the house can help them get used to the feeling of a mask on their face. Have them wear a mask during an activity they really enjoy so they’re distracted from the mask.
“Let your child pick out a mask in fun patterns,” encourages Dr. Korimerla. “Compare wearing a mask every time you go out to wearing a seatbelt every time you get in the car. This helps them understand it’s about safety and is very normal to wear.” Be sure to keep extras with you for variety.
You can also talk to your child’s pediatrician and school administration if you think your child will need special accommodations for wearing a mask at school. Also realize that children may be more likely to wear a mask if they see their friends and siblings doing it. Parents can rest assured that both peer and teacher encouragement can go a long way in helping kids, even the young ones, keep their masks on during the school day.
On top of getting used to wearing a mask, children and teens are coping with an unprecedented amount of stress during COVID-19. They, too, are struggling with disruption to their routines and are often unable to see their friends.
Providence launched work2bewell, an initiative that empowers teens through mental health resources. You and your teen can follow along on Instagram for more tips and advice for coping with the stress that comes along with adolescence during a pandemic.
How can I deal with the anxiety I get when I wear a mask?
Mask anxiety is a real thing. Not only can the feeling of a mask trigger feelings of anxiety and even claustrophobia, but it can also remind you that we’re living in very unusual and uncertain times. That reminder alone can amp up anyone’s nerves and adrenaline – and not in the fun way. Fortunately, Dr. Korimerla has advice to help ease those worries.
“First, try a few different face masks to see which one is most comfortable for you,” she suggests. “You may find a cloth mask with a nose wire helps you breathe a little easier and be more relaxed than how a surgical mask feels.
You can also get used to the sensation by wearing it around the house. Deep breathing exercises and grounding techniques can also help manage feelings of anxiety when you do head out the door.
Do I really need to wear a mask when I’m exercising?
If you’re not able to stay 6 feet away from other people, then yes, you should wear a mask when out running, walking or working out, especially if you’re in an enclosed space. It may not always be comfortable but it’s your best chance at reducing the risk of catching or spreading COVID-19.
Schedule a visit
If you or a family member is struggling with anxiety or if you have questions about how to stay safe during COVID-19, talk to your primary care provider. They can help answer any questions you may have and ease fears. They can also refer you to a mental health specialist, so you get the support you need. Use our provider directory to search for one in your area.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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