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Deborah German, MD Vice President for Health Affairs and Dean, UCF College of Medicine

We can expect COVID-19 to be part of our daily lives for quite some time. For that reason, we are restarting weekly health tips and making them about the virus from experts at UCF’s Academic Health Sciences Center. 

As healthcare providers, our goal is to provide simple, evidence-based advice you can use in your daily lives to stay as safe as possible. 

Our first topic – cloth face masks. We’re being advised to wear them in public places like grocery stores and pharmacies, where social distancing may be challenging. And the internet is full of ads for masks and instructions on making them at home. What do you need to know?

First, why does everyone need to wear a cloth mask in public? The simple answer: The mask is a barrier. When we’re in close proximity, we inhale each other’s air. Masks keep that from happening so we reduce the spread of the virus.

One of the challenges of COVID-19 is that, unlike most other viruses, people can have it, be contagious and not feel sick. Since some people have the virus for up to two weeks before getting any symptoms, and others never feel sick, the virus can be present anywhere people are present. So each one of us could be in the presence of COVID-19 at any time. 

We know COVID-19 spreads in respiratory droplets that occur when an infected person sneezes, coughs or even talks. So someone with the virus – who may feel fine and not know they’re sick – can sneeze in the grocery store or cough while out on a run. Their droplets remain in the air and if you walk by, they land on you. Wearing a cloth mask over the nose and mouth keeps infected people from infecting others. 

We hear a lot about surgical masks and N95 respirators. Please don’t buy them. These masks are for healthcare workers and other medical first responders who are in in very close contact with COVID-19 patients or potentially infected people. Because these masks are in short supply, they need to be saved for those on the front lines. 

There are several tips to getting the most protection out of your cloth mask. Be sure it contains several layers of tightly woven fabric, such as linen.  Some crafters have even used coffee filters. 

Fit is important. Be sure your cloth mask fits snugly but comfortably against the side of your face. Try to minimize gaps between the material and your skin. Be sure your mask is secured with ties or ear loops. However, you want to be able to breathe without difficulty. People with severe breathing problems should consult their physician about wearing masks and masks should never be worn by children under age 2.

Wash your hands before you put on and after you remove your mask and avoid touching your nose or mouth. Machine wash and dry your mask frequently and be sure the cleaning doesn’t damage the mask or change its shape. 

As a physician, I have a surgical mask I wear when I am in a clinical or hospital environment. When I am out on my morning run/walk, I wear a bandana because it is most comfortable. I wear a multi-layered cloth mask whenever I go anywhere else in public. 

Get into the habit of wearing a mask any time you leave home. You protect yourself and others.  

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