Coronavirus Questions Answered: When Should I Wear A Mask?

People should only wear homemade, cloth face masks outside. Surgical masks and N95 respirator masks should be left for health care workers. [Apple_Mac / Shutterstock]
The CDC recommends people wear cloth face masks outside. Surgical masks and N95 respirator masks should be reserved for health care workers. [Apple_Mac / Shutterstock]
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What are your questions about the coronavirus?

ideastream is answering as many questions as possible, with help from local experts in a range of fields. You can send us your questions with our online form, through our social media pages and group or call us at 216-916-6476. We'll keep the answers coming on our website and on the air.

Many people have questions about wearing masks, especially following the new recommendation to wear them from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Doreen from Akron asked: “If I am walking around my neighborhood, or pulling weeds in my yard and there are not any people near me, do I need to wear a mask?”

Not necessarily, said Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine’s Dr. Scott Frank.

His reasoning is that while pulling weeds in the yard, a person is unlikely to see other people. But Frank said to consider wearing a mask while walking around the neighborhood since a person is more likely to pass by other people while out and about. 

“The purpose of the fabric face mask is to protect others from you,” he said.

Cloth masks are a way to prevent your respiratory droplets from spreading to others, not a way to protect you from catching it, said Frank, but the more people who wear masks in public, the safer you’ll be.

The CDC and others say proper social distancing measures are still critical, even with a face mask, and that surgical masks and N95 respirators must be reserved for health care workers.  The CDC recommends the general public use simple cloth face covers, like bandanas, washed regularly.

Frank said when choosing a material for your homemade face mask, hold it up to a strong light. If you can see the light through the fabric, the material is too sheer and needs more layers. 

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