TAMPA — Wearing masks is one of the most important ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — and health experts say everyone should continue to care for their face coverings to ensure protection when in public.
After wearing a mask for a few months, doctors say there are some clear, tell-tale signs that it is no longer working correctly.
"When the edges start to fray or if the pieces where they connect start to fall apart, or if they are visibly soiled, then you should really get a new mask," said Dr. Tracey Taylor, the associate dean of USF College of Nursing.
Experts also say that if a mask no longer fits over the nose or doesn't have a close fit around the face or chin, it's time to get a new one.
"It's super important to make sure your mask is fitting appropriately, that it's not visibly soiled, that the edges aren't frayed and that the attachments to the ear loops or tie backs — whatever type you're wearing — is appropriately attached," Taylor said.
For those who own cloth masks, experts say owners need to remember to wash them.
Experts say washing cloth mask with detergent or soap is best and that they don't need to be washed with super hot water. Those who own cloth masks with filters should remove the filter and clean it separately.
However, there's another option.
"You can put them in a paper bag and seal it up for a couple of days. That'll inactivate any virus that's on it," said Dr. Marissa Levine, a professor of public health practice at USF.
After several months, experts say they have more information about which masks are effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Cloth masks are most effective when they have at least three layers of material or a spot to add a filter. They're typically the easiest for the general public to use because they're reusable, and doctors say the research shows they mostly prevent the spread of the virus.
Although any face covering is better than none, some aren't as effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
- Experts say bandanas are very thin and don't offer the same type of protection as a mask.
- Doctors say any mask with a valve on it is completely ineffective because the valve allows virus-carrying particles to leak out.
- Popular neck gaiters that wearers can easily pull up and down don't provide a lot of protection for the wearer or those around them.
"If you find yourself with a single layer, you could use something like a paper towel inside there to add an extra layer if you need to," Levine said.
Experts advise keeping two masks on hand in case one gets lost or breaks.
"There's no one thing that we do that will protect us to the highest level. It's a series of things," Levine said.
This story was originally published by Larissa Scott on WFTS in Tampa, Florida.