If You Do Go Out With Your Family This Summer, Please Wear Face Masks, For Everyone's Sake

Wearing masks is an important and easy good deed you can do to help your neighbors stay safe as the country opens back up.

Girl wearing and holding a DIY protective face mask
Photo: ti-ja/Getty Images

Months into the coronavirus pandemic, it's time to get on board with wearing a mask when you're out with your family this summer.

We've been talking about masks for what feels like years now: First, health advice said masks would not protect the wearer from COVID-19. Then we were told to save medical-grade masks for health workers fighting the coronavirus in hospitals every day. Now, advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is that kids older than age 2 and adults should wear cloth masks in public when social distancing might be difficult. The switch has left many people confused about the purpose and usefulness of face masks, and misinformation about masks has flourished.

But public health experts agree that wearing masks is one of the best ways to protect the people around you from COVID-19 as the country begins to open up. In fact, studies suggest masks block about 99 percent of particles from leaving your mask.

MeiLan Han, M.D., a professor of pulmonary medicine at the University of Michigan and a volunteer medical spokesperson for the American Lung Association, explains that even as the country is opening up again, the pandemic is not over and there is still risk of contracting or spreading the coronavirus. "It is real and it's still here, even if you don't see it, even if you don't know someone who's had it," says Dr. Han. "It is still, unfortunately, spreading in the United States."

That's why the CDC still recommends wearing face masks for situations where social distancing might be difficult—AKA anytime someone might come within six feet of you or your family.

"The biggest thing it's going to do is prevent spread when you cough, for instance, or even sing. When you do that, you generate particles that might have the virus and the thought is that many of those particles would hopefully get trapped within the mask," says Dr. Han. "The main reason to do it is to prevent spread to others."

In simple terms, the masks may not necessarily always keep people from getting coronavirus. But they can keep people from spreading it. So wearing a mask is the most important good deed you can do this summer—especially as states ease up on stay-at-home orders and we are all exposed to more and more people. Every time you or your kids come within six feet of someone at the park, grocery store, or even a barbecue, there's a chance you'd encounter coronavirus particles. But if everyone in that park wears a mask, the coronavirus is kept (at least mostly) behind the fabric.

The truth is you can't control what happens further down the chain of person to person that you run into—you might not know if the guy handing your kids a juice box at a barbecue has an immunocompromised neighbor. You don't know if the folks shopping next to you at the grocery store are health care workers in the emergency room treating coronavirus cases. But you don't want to be the link between the coronavirus and someone who's vulnerable.

"I kind of view it as a new form of social courtesy," says Dr. Han. "You're showing support for your community when you wear a mask."

So how do you get your kids to wear them? Dr. Han is also a mom of a 6-year-old and admits that it was a "trial and error" process to find a mask that works for her son. She suggests taking mask-wearing in stages with kids. "Explain to them why it's important: We love our community and we love our friends and family and anyone we see, and we need to try to protect them," she explains. "And then practice wearing it at home with a couple different versions until you find one that works for your child."

But once you find a model (or a pattern) kids can get on board with wearing, just please, wear the masks. Yeah, they're not super comfortable. Sure, they're bound to cause some pretty funny tan lines in the sun if you skimp on the sunscreen (don't forget half of your and your kiddo's face will still be getting rays!). But if there's a chance that they could save someone's life, isn't it worth sacrificing a bit of personal comfort? We think yes. So until the CDC says we can stop, we'll be rocking our masks all summer long.

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