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. Or you could end up insulting hospital workers.
It’s also worth knowing how to properly wear a mask since people will most likely have to continue wearing them even after people start getting vaccinated. That includes the continued wearing of masks when traveling on an airplane.
“A lot of people are thinking that once they get vaccinated, they’re not going to have to wear masks anymore,” Michal Tal, an immunologist at Stanford University, told the New York Times. “It’s really going to be critical for them to know if they have to keep wearing masks, because they could still be contagious.”
And if you’ve forgotten how to wear your face covering, this woman has her own mask that bluntly tells you that “IT GOES OVER YOUR NOSE.” Yet, even by early January, newly elected Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) still hadn’t figured it out. As she was being sworn in to her new job on Jan. 3, the QAnon supporter got into a screaming match about whether she had to wear a mask. Photos also showed her with her mask underneath her nose and mouth.
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. It’s clear that neck gaiters and face shields aren’t effective at stopping the virus, but you don’t necessarily need an N95 or surgical mask to stay safe. But if you are wearing a surgical mask, make sure it isn’t an old one, because the more one wears them, the less effective they become.
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?