Masks for coronavirus: How and when to wear one

Wearing face masks in public has been an everyday experience for people in other foreign countries. In contrast, the use of a face mask or why it’s needed has been cumbersome for people in the United States.

In Ohio, the state is requiring workers to wear face masks when dealing with the public and Ohioans have been urged by Gov. Mike DeWine to wear face coverings in public spaces around other people.

The Dayton Daily News worked with local public health officials to help answer some of your common questions about face masks.

Why are we wearing masks and still doing other steps like social distancing?

Homemade masks help reduce the amount of the virus people could be putting out by things like spitting while talking or coughing, according to Charlie Patterson, commissioner of the Clark County Combined Health District. The goal of homemade masks is to reduce the amount of virus a person could be unknowingly exposing others to by helping catch droplets of saliva.

Reducing the amount of virus breathed out is just part of preventative measures, he said, along with keeping at least six feet apart and good hygiene, to help reduce the risk of spread as more residents return to work and leave the home. When he went to see his mother for Mother’s day, they had different layers of precautions such as meeting in the garage with the door open, kept more than 10 feet away and they wore masks.

“With Swiss cheese, something goes right through, but if you put a couple layers of Swiss cheese, you might close up almost all the holes. That’s why we’re doing social distancing plus the masks,” Patterson said.

Should I wear one outside? 

If you’re out in the yard, there’s no need. If you’re out walking or running by yourself, it’s also not necessary to wear a mask, though it’s good to have one on hand just in case you run into someone you want to stop and talk to or you decide to run into a store, said Dan Suffoletto, with Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County.

“If you’re walking close with someone, those people should be wearing a mask or separate far enough apart. If you’re biking, just by the nature of biking you’re usually farther apart,” Suffoletto said.

Just running by someone outside without a mask is low risk, said Suffoletto.

When deciding if you should wear a mask, you’ll be looking at times when you’re in outdoor or indoor spaces where people are going to be social distancing but they’re still going to be relatively close, Patterson said.

“So if you’re going to the grocery or any retail establishment or place like that, the courteous thing to do is to wear a facemask to protect those around you,” Patterson said.

Different situations are going to have different context. If you are trying to think about risk and prevention, keep in mind that outside is less risk than meeting with someone inside, keeping a distance is safer than getting up close to someone, small groups are less risk than big groups, and shorter times together are less risk than longer times together.

Masks are one layer of prevention to help reduce risk particularly if you are going to adding more risk in other ways like if you are inside with someone not in your household, up close to someone or spending a prolonged time around someone.

What if I’m worried about a business where I don’t think people are wearing masks correctly? 

If you have a concern about places where you think employee face mask rules are not being followed, you could call the establishment and field your questions to the management, you can call your local health department, but Patterson said customers with concerns can also simply shift their shopping habits to places where they feel mask guidelines are being followed, which he said will create incentives that will make the whole community safer.

“What I would say is that people need to start voting with their feet. If the place where you’re going for whatever your business is, if you’re going there and they’re not wearing masks to protect you … you may need to find someplace else to do your business,” Patterson said.

Patterson said it can also help some people with comfort to try different mask designs and fabrics to find one that fits more comfortably.

How do I clean and store my mask?

Cloth face masks worn during the coronavirus pandemic should be washed regularly, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Public health experts recommend wearing a mask made from cotton fabric, such as T-shirts, or scarves and bandannas, when you are outside and unable to maintain social distancing from others.

The covering should be washed daily after use, says Penni Watts, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Nursing.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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