As confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to rise, the CDC is recommending that everyone wear a cloth mask when they go out in public.

Protecting others, not you

When asked about the CDC recommendation, President Donald Trump indicated that he would not comply.

“I just don’t want to wear one myself,” the president told reporters.

Most experts say you should.

“Masks should be worn anytime you are in public or people are nearby. Masks act as a physical barrier to protect you and others from viral and bacterial particulates. Many people unknowingly infect others by going out and spreading germs by coughing or touching others,” Keane Veran, co-founder and chief executive officer of Oura, a maker of face masks, said.

“You can go out in public areas without a mask if there is no one nearby. Otherwise, regardless if it’s close quarters or spaced out, you should wear a mask with others around. This is precaution and courtesy to yourself and those nearby you.”

A cloth mask alone is unlikely to prevent you from inhaling microscopic virus particles, according to Rodney Rohde, PhD, chair of the Clinical Laboratory Science Program and associate dean for research at the College of Health Professions at Texas State University.

“The coronavirus will go right through cloth and bandanas… but it will provide a bit of respiratory protection, which can reduce depositing of droplets of the virus on surfaces and to people near you,” Rohde said.

Dr. Luke Padwick, an emergency physician and founder of Austin Emergency Center in Texas, likens the benefit of wearing a mask to coughing or sneezing into your elbow.

“Wearing a mask is good for two reasons: It’s going to cut down 95 percent of the breathing that sends the virus up to 6 feet away in a room, and also will reduce fecal/oral transmission by preventing the virus from getting into your nose or mouth” if you touch a contaminated surface and then your face,” Padwick said. “I think this will slow down the virus a lot.”

Stay vigilant on other measures

Reports from Asia suggest that mask wearing plays an important role in promoting a sense of community solidarity and collective effort in fighting diseases like coronavirus.

What wearing a mask won’t do, however, is take the place of other, more important COVID-19 prevention protocols, such as social distancing and handwashing.

“Masks may lead to a false sense of protection,” warned Rohde.

“If you put on a mask and then go into a grocery store and touch everything, your risk is going to go up,” added Padwick.

Just as important as wearing a mask is proper handling when using them, said Rohde. Hand hygiene in conjunction with “donning and doffing” masks is especially critical.

“Avoiding handling the cloth without washing your hands,” he said. “Be careful when taking it off to handle the mask by the bands, not the cloth.”

Cloth masks should be washed daily or after every extended use.

“Wash it with a detergent containing bleach or a bleach-like ingredient, dry it, and it is good to go,” said Rohde.

Medical reference: healthline