Mask for Mask: A Guide for How to Reenter Society

By David GallagherLast Updated Sep 21, 2020 10:05:40 AM ET
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While many Americans are beginning to lower their guard and venture out a bit more, experts still don't have a clear picture on when the COVID-19 pandemic could potentially end. Wearing a mask all the time is an uncomfortable hassle, so people are understandably eager — perhaps even desperate — to put their mask-wearing days behind them. Unfortunately, much like the virus itself, the time for wearing masks isn't behind us yet.


As temperatures cool down across the country, all that chillier weather may drive you to spend a lot more time indoors than you did in the summer months — possibly not alone. Despite all the mask frustration, it remains critically important to continue to follow public safety guidelines and social distancing recommendations, and that includes wearing a mask around other people — even indoors — with the exception of the (non-sick) family members you live with all the time. You want to protect your loved ones and the loved ones of others as well as yourself, so be sure to stick to proper mask etiquette and guidelines as your town or city re-opens. Here's what you need to know.

Take Care While Exercising

Exercise (or lack thereof) has many Americans itching to leave their homes. Physical activity is not only good for your general health, but also mental well-being and possibly even fending off some of the most dangerous symptoms of COVID-19. However, exercise also poses unique challenges for public safety — and not just your own.

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That’s because exercise causes you to breathe more quickly, which in turn causes you to exhale more droplets of moisture that could potentially contain the coronavirus. While you should always maintain 6 feet of distance between you and other people, you should probably stay even farther apart when either you or they are exercising.

The Many Ways You Can Wear a Mask Wrong

It’s no secret that masks can get uncomfortable. However, many of the ways people wear masks to get around that can completely defeat the purpose of wearing one. If worn too loosely or over the mouth but not the nose, your mask won’t do anything to prevent the spread of droplets from your nose or mouth. While your mask shouldn’t be tight, it shouldn’t be so loose that it fails to stay in place, and it must cover your nose to be effective. If you have a respiratory issue or other condition that prevents you from wearing a mask, you shouldn’t go out where there could be people, if possible.

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Many people realize this is necessary. However, there are less obvious ways you can wear a mask wrong as well. You should wash your hands before or after putting on or taking off your mask respectively, and you shouldn’t touch it while wearing it. Ideally, you should wash your mask after every use. If it gets damp, you should replace it. Don’t put the covering on your neck or forehead while it’s not in use.

Finally, remember that the main point of wearing a mask isn’t protecting yourself, but stopping yourself from accidentally spreading it to others, as it’s common not to experience symptoms. Just because it doesn’t get you sick doesn’t mean it couldn’t be potentially lethal to an older person or someone with a compromised immune system — it has already done just that. Even healthy young people have died from the virus, so don’t assume that you don't have to worry about spreading it to people with strong immune systems.


Don't Reuse Disposable Gloves

Gloves sure can be … handy. As you begin to reenter society, gloves can let you interact with the world around you with a certain degree of safety. However, when you end up touching your shopping cart, your phone and your clothing with the same pair of gloves, you're not really allowing them to do much protecting. Instead, you’re spreading germs from place to place, which can be a risk for both you and others.

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Disposable gloves should be tossed away after use to prevent the spread of germs, while reusable gloves should be washed. (COVID-19 can’t survive exposure to temperatures of 160 degrees Fahrenheit or more for at least five minutes, so your dryer should do just fine.) Either way, it’s best to avoid touching things when possible even when wearing gloves — just because you’re protected doesn’t mean other people are, and gloves can spread germs.


Remember That the World Has Changed

Perhaps the most important thing you can do as society reopens is simply remembering that the pandemic isn’t over yet. There may not be anyone to hold you accountable if you break safety guidelines (other than strangers giving you side-eye, of course), but you should still follow them, no matter how easy it might be to think that things have returned to normal.

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For instance, a meal at a restaurant may seem like a return to normalcy, but you shouldn’t forget to wash your hands before eating anything with your bare hands, and you don’t want to crowd together in a booth with people outside your household. Above all, you should take care to always give people space — even in narrow aisles or other spaces, and even when it might inconvenience you for a few seconds or even minutes.


It’s not always to have patience or compassion for other people even under the best of circumstances, but by being mindful of our neighbors and ourselves, we can minimize the number of people who get sick as cities reopen. Suit up, avoid touching your eyes, be kind and get back out there.