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I'm an Infectious Disease Doctor and Want You to Add This to Your Mask

The majority of us aren’t maximizing our protection from COVID-19. 

Wearing a face mask in one of the most important methods of protecting yourself and others from COVID-19. According to the CDC, masks should be worn in public settings around people who don't live in your household and when you can't stay 6 feet away from others. Why? "Masks help stop the spread of COVID-19 to others," they explain. While most of us are well aware of the most common face mask mistakes, there is one that many of us are likely overlooking—and it could be a serious game-changer in terms of preventing infected respiratory droplets from making their way into your system or out into the world from yours. Read on, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.

The Mistake is Misusing the Slot in the Interior

Many cloth masks offer a little slot on the interior. In case you didn't know, they actually have a purpose—and if you aren't utilizing them you are making a mistake. Their purpose is to house a disposable filter, which can more effectively block respiratory droplets than wearing a cloth mask alone. 

Onyema Ogbuagu, MD, a Yale Medicine infectious disease specialist and associate professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine, explains to Eat This, Not That! Health that he is in favor of people using disposable filters inside face masks to prevent COVID-19 infection and transmission. "The size of the (respiratory) particles are really small, so they can easily penetrate fabrics used to make masks," he points out. "Having a filter layer embedded between the layers of cloth is smart."

Research from Missouri S&T supports Dr. Ogbuagu's claims. A recent study spearheaded by Yang Wang, Ph.D., assistant professor of environmental engineering, found that some fabrics block only 10-20% of particles. However, with the help of a HEPA filter, 80-90% of particles can be blocked, making it nearly as efficient as an N95 mask. 

These mask filters can be purchased on Amazon and are incredibly affordable. In fact, you can order a pack of 20 for less than $12—a small price to pay for your health. 

The Latest CDC Mask Suggestions

Last week the CDC updated their recommendations on masks, offering a variety of suggestions. They included wearing masks with two or more layers to stop the spread of COVID-19, wearing the mask over your nose and mouth and secure it under your chin, avoiding the use of masks by those under two, people who have trouble breathing, or cannot remove the mask without assistance, and the reminder that masks intended for healthcare workers — such as N95 respirators — should be avoided by the general population. 

They also acknowledged that any mask with an exhalation valve should be avoided and that the effectiveness of fleece neck gaiters as well as face shields are still unknown. 

Additionally, the health organization offered explicit instructions on how to wear, wash, and take off a mask. To keep infections low continue following the fundamentals — mask wearing, social distancing, practicing hand hygiene, avoiding crowds, and staying outdoors as much as possible. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these COVID Mistakes You Should Never Make.

Leah Groth
Leah Groth has decades of experience covering all things health, wellness and fitness related. Read more about Leah