All masks are not created equal. Students and staff are returning to in-person school and new COVID variants are arriving on our shores; therefore,  it is no longer good enough to wear a bandana or a loose single-layer cotton mask. Variants like B.1.117 from the United Kingdom have proven to be 50-74% more transmissible than the original COVID-19 virus, and reports indicate that the South African strain (501.V2 or B.1.351) is as contagious. (Lanese) 

We don’t want to scare you, but a number of doctors have reported seeing patients who contracted COVID from masked grocery trips. Also, there is evidence that COVID particles
can travel through or around the masks; however a study published in Germany concluded that there is a 45% reduction in new infections about 20 days after face mask mandates, which suggests that masks may be both an effective and cost-effective means to mitigate COVID-19. (Mitze)

Who needs a mask?

Everyone. Kids age 2 or older and adults should wear masks in public (i.e., when around people who are not members of the household.) This is especially important in enclosed locations, since COVID can be aerosolized, spread by virus droplets that can remain airborne and travel more than six feet. Aerosols spread best when people are in close contact and with low ventilation. The more people in a space, then the more COVID can be in a space. There is some evidence that even 15 minutes in an enclosed space is enough time to contract COVID. Please note, V is for Ventilation will be coming soon.

Masks should also be worn outside, particularly if you will be in close contact with people outside of your household. Those with medical conditions (breathing or sensory issues) are not required to wear a mask, nor should you wear a mask if it would restrict breathing too much (e.g., during vigorous exercise) or would be a choking hazard (e.g., while white-water rafting).

What is the best mask?

The very best available masks are the N95, KF94, or KN95 masks. These masks have an electrostatic filter that prevents the COVID virus from coming through. Right now, N95s are hard to find and the CDC recommends reserving them for medical personnel, so a KF94 or KN95 may be the best bet. A rule of thumb about masks offered by Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is “A surgical mask is better than a cloth mask, a tight-fitting surgical mask is better than a loose-fitting mask, and an N95 is better than a surgical mask.” (Lanese)

What is double masking?

Public officials recommend double-masking, particularly if you don’t have an N95, KN94, or KN95 mask. You may have noticed that most of Joe Biden’s administration are wearing a surgical mask under a fabric mask, as evidenced at the Presidential Inauguration. Wearing a fabric mask over a surgical mask, ensures the surgical mask fits tightly without gaps. Under a fabric mask, the surgical mask acts as a filter and carries an electrostatic charge that traps a wearer’s expelled respiratory droplets. (Lanese) A surgical mask under a cloth mask may provide “over 91% removal efficiency for particles,” said Joseph Allen, an associate professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (LaMotte)

Do you want more mask tips?

The CDC and COVID experts offer more mask suggestions: 

  • A mask is NOT a substitute for social distancing. Masks should still be worn in addition to staying at least 6 feet apart, especially when indoors around people who don’t live in your household.

  • When you wear a mask, you protect others as well as yourself. Masks work best when everyone wears one.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol after touching or removing your mask.

  • Just because Amazon sells a mask, it doesn’t mean that it works or is of good quality. Check out the FDA list of reputable disposable mask manufacturers below to ensure the best quality. 

  • Surgical masks are one-time use only. Discard safely after use.

  • A disposable mask should be replaced when it becomes soiled or breathing becomes difficult. 

  • Clean reusable masks properly.

  • Find expert recommendations about kids and masks from the Children’s Hospital:

Other mask recommendations can be found on the CDC website:

We all need to upgrade our mask game.

In schools, teachers, education staff, and students should be required to wear masks every day, all day, except during meals or vigorous outdoor exercise. Choose a mask that combines safety with as much comfort as possible, then wear it, and encourage everyone else to wear a mask.

M is for Face Mask. Mask up with the best mask possible and keep safe, Your @safeFCPS Communications Lead

Additional resources:

CDC. (Updated Dec. 18, 2020). Considerations for Wearing Masks. Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19.
CDC. (Updated Jan. 13, 2021). Your Guide to Masks.
LaMotte, Sandee. (January 28, 2021). Double masking for Covid-19 protection: A trend with a purpose. CNN.\
Lanese, Nicoletta. (Jan 27, 2021). You may need to start wearing better face masks. LiveScience.
Mitze, Timo, et al.. (Dec 22, 2020, first published Dec 3, 2020). Face masks considerably reduce COVID-19 cases in Germany. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A. (PNAS).
US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (Updated Jan 26, 2021) Personal Protective Equipment EUAs.