By this point in the pandemic, most people are familiar with the saying “my mask protects you, your mask protects me.” The phrase has been used for months to inform the public about the spread and transmission of COVID-19. But if a mask is not worn properly—if, for example, the mask is under the nose—it fails not only in protecting others but could also put wearers at additional risk.
Experts warn that an improperly worn mask that exposes your nose is equivalent to not wearing a mask at all.
“I see it everywhere. I see it in grocery stores … I tend to see it, actually, [with] people wearing their masks outside,” Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist with the University of Toronto, told Global News. “If someone’s got their nose peeking out, it’s really no different than not wearing a mask.”
“It serves no purpose at all. Going through the motions, in a way,” Tim Sly, an epidemiologist and professor emeritus at Ryerson University, said. Sly noted that, when properly worn, masks are the next best thing to keeping your distance from others.
Studies have shown that transmission of the virus primarily occurs through particles that come from the mouth. This often happens when talking or coughing, as exemplified by the super spreader event that took place early in the pandemic during a Washington choir practice. Researchers now believe the catalyst for becoming infected happens when those particles are breathed in through the nose.
“Things likely started in the nose, and the nose is the purveyor of all viral illness,” UNC Professor of Medicine Dr. Richard Boucher told ABC 11 Eyewitness News. “The virus appeared to pick the nose as a fertile ground for infection.”
Guidelines from the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise that the correct way of wearing a mask is to place it over your nose, mouth, and chin, ensuring that there are no gaps between your face and the mask. The goal is to fit the mask snugly against the sides of your face while making sure you can still breathe easily. Wear it incorrectly, and you’re likely to scare grocery store workers who are dealing with hundreds of other people every day.
The CDC does not recommend the use of masks that have an exhalation valve or filtered vent, such as a valved N95 mask, because the wearer is effectively breathing out contaminated air that could put others at risk. For those wondering which mask best protects against coronavirus, see our guideline rating the effectiveness of different types of masks.
Read more on coronavirus face coverings:
- Yes, you should STILL be wearing a face mask during the pandemic
- Pandemic experts say we may live with masks for years
- Not all masks are effective against COVID-19: Here’s a ranking of how safe they are
- No, wearing a face mask during the pandemic will not weaken your immune system
- How face masks are affecting the deaf and hard of hearing community
- What’s the difference between an N95, an N99, and a R95 face mask?