SAN ANTONIO – Sewing machines are humming now that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention switched its guidelines to advise people to wear a face mask when going out in public. But wearing or handling a face mask incorrectly may do more harm than good, according to medical experts.
Masks are hard to come by in stores, so many people are making them out of tightly woven cotton, flannel or dish towels. And if you can’t sew, you can create one out of a T-shirt and rubber bands, as the U.S. Surgeon General demonstrated on Twitter.
Cloth masks may not be medical grade, but they can help, according to Dr. Alison Haddock with Baylor College of Medicine. She spoke with KPRC-TV in Houston about key mistakes to avoid.
“The COVID virus is spread by droplets. It’s spread when we cough or sneeze or even talk. A droplet from one person gets transmitted to another person,” said Haddock.
She said she sees people not wearing the mask over both their nose and mouth all the time. Instead, she said she sees people moving the mask to talk.
"If you are wearing the mask like this so that it’s only covering your mouth, then you are missing out on an opportunity to block it from transmitting the virus,” she explained. “If you are wearing the mask around your chin and then pulling it up. Bringing it down, that’s a problem too. All of that touching of the mask allows getting droplets from the mask on your hands, then transmit them to yourself.”
You may see people removing their masks once they get in their car. Haddock advises it’s best to wait until you get in your home.
“I put it on before I leave my house. That way, I know my hands are totally clean when I put it on,” said Haddock. “Then, when I get home, taking it off completely using the ties in the back, not touching this part that has been touching my hands my mouth.”
Try to remove the mask by using the ties in the back, and try not to touch the cloth mask portion.
“Once you have been wearing it, the front of the mask is contaminated, or potentially contaminated," she explained. "You want to make sure you are not transmitting any of that around your home.”
Health experts say you should launder your mask in hot water with each use, at least every day. If you need to put it on again before laundering, carefully store it in a clean place and wash your hands before and after you put the mask on.
It’s a good idea to use different fabrics or mark the mask so you can readily tell the front that’s exposed to the public from the back.
COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new virus, stands for coronavirus disease 2019. The disease first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China, but spread around the world in early 2020, causing the World Health Organization to declare a pandemic in March.
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