As the new coronavirus pandemic rages on, public health officials are again urging people to practice good hand hygiene, stay physically distant from people and wear a face covering when around others.

Now that nine months have passed since a Snohomish County man was the first confirmed case in the United States, there is evidence that wearing a face covering, in conjunction with other safety measures, protects those around you and probably provides some protection for yourself.

The risk of contracting the virus that causes COVID-19 is greater now than it has been at any point during the pandemic, and people need to take preventive measures seriously, said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County.

“Every day that we as individuals put off taking the necessary actions to stop the spread of COVID-19 leads to additional, preventable suffering and economic pain,” Duchin said during a press briefing last week.

This week, FAQ Friday answers your questions about masks.

Should masks be worn outside at all times, even if not near other people?

Wearing a mask outside is recommended, especially if you can’t stay a safe distance away from others or are in an area shielded from ventilation, Duchin wrote in an email.

“If you’re visiting a farmers’ market or park where physical distancing is more difficult, you should wear a face-covering for the entire duration,” he wrote.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests people wear masks in all public settings, including outdoors if you can’t distance from others. If for some reason you can’t wear a mask outside, the CDC urges people to find a location where you can stay at least 6 feet away from other people.

Even if you are walking, running or exercising in an area where you can stay more than 6 feet away from other people, you should still have a mask with you, Duchin wrote.

How should masks be worn?

A couple of recent runs around the crown of Queen Anne Hill revealed more people wearing masks under their chins than over their mouths and noses. One man even had his blue surgical mask folded so it covered only his nose.

The nose is not only a major entry point for SARS-CoV-2, it holds in higher densities a key protein, called the ACE2 receptor, which the virus uses to enter and infect cells in the nasal membrane, Gregory Poland, director of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group, told The Washington Post.

“Wearing a mask over your mouth but not your nose is akin to holding the seat belt in your hand but not clicking it,” he says.

Duchin says a face covering should fit snugly over a person’s nose and mouth. It should have at least two layers of material, he said.

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What type of mask works best?

N95 respirator masks provide a high level of protection and are used by health care workers. Most people outside of the health care industry don’t have access to N95 respirators, but there are plenty of other types of masks that work.

The CDC recommends face coverings made of two or more layers. A good option for the general public are surgical masks more easily found than N95 respirators.

Homemade or purchased masks should have multiple layers, be breathable and washable, according to the CDC.

Neck gaiters, which the CDC has given a “caution” label, have become popular because it’s easy to breathe through the stretchy fabric and they stay over the nose and mouth without using ear loops.

But studies by aerosol experts have shown that when neck gaiters are doubled up, they are effective at blocking large and small respiratory droplets. Researchers from the University of Georgia compared gaiters to no masks and to two-layer, washable cloth masks recommended by the CDC.

The researchers found that a single-layer gaiter provided a 77% average reduction in respiratory droplets compared to no mask. Two layers provided 81% reduction, and multilayered gaiters provided a 96% average reduction.

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In a Q&A with the study, Suraj Sharma, a professor in the University of Georgia’s College of Family and Consumer Sciences, said that the issue shouldn’t be neck gaiters versus masks, but the number of layers of material a face covering has.

“Many gaiters are single layers of fabric, but they can easily be folded up to create two or three layers, making them as good, if not better, than standard two-layer masks,” Sharma said.

Masks with valves or vents should not be used, according to the CDC. The valves and vents allow the wearer’s respiratory droplets to escape.

If you have a question you haven’t seen addressed in The Seattle Times’ coverage, ask it at st.news/coronavirus-questions or via the form below.

Do you have questions about the coronavirus that causes COVID-19?

Ask in the form below and we’ll dig for answers. If you’re using a mobile device and can’t see the form on this page, ask your question here. If you have specific medical questions, please contact your doctor.

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