ST. LOUIS ( -- With face masks becoming more prevalent, we’ve heard from a lot of viewers who have questions about their use.

News 4’s Alyssa Toomey sat down with Dr. Alexis Elward, an infectious disease specialist with Washington University to get answers to those questions.

Why has the recommendation changed?

Dr. Elward said we now have a much better understanding of how the coronavirus spreads; the most common way is through droplets. Those are larger sized particles that travel through the air and land about six feet away.

Dr. Elward said a mask helps trap those particles. In fact, face coverings were also used for protection during the 1918 flu pandemic. Elward said it’s not just for your protection but also the protection of others.

“The more time you're wearing the mask, the better off the people are around you are going to be and the better off that you're going to be. This is not an on-off. It's definitely a duration and an amount of exposure. Anything we can do to decrease that risk is going to help.”

How often should I change and wash my mask?

Dr. Elward said it’s extremely important to make sure your mask covers your nose and mouth. She said you only need one mask a day, but if it’s a cloth mask, you should wash it every day.

She said to make sure it’s well-fitted because you can easily contaminate it by touching your face. While masks are not always pleasant, Elward said people need to get used to the practice.

“This is going to be a longer haul for us, and so we just need to get used to this behavior of wearing a mask.”

How effective is a cloth mask?

Dr. Elward said the type of mask (i.e. cloth, medical grade) doesn’t really matter for the average person. She said you just need to make sure you’re wearing a mask that fits properly.

N95 masks are the most effective, but those currently need to be reserved for healthcare workers. Elward said a simple cloth mask still offers a great deal of protection and will prevent 70 to 85 percent of the particles that carry the COVID-19 virus from spreading.

As for eye protection, it’s recommended for healthcare workers, but not the general public.

Keep in mind, a mask is just one part of the safety equation.

“It’s a tool that’s used in combination with social distancing and really trying to limit the amount of time you’re around people and that you’re doing these errands. All of these things really work together to change the risk of transmission.”

Should my child wear a mask?

While the CDC recommends every child over the age of two wear a mask, Dr. Elward said you need to take into account the child’s behavior.

"If you have a child who is going to be touching their face a lot, then that might actually be a riskier situation than not wearing the mask,” Elward said.

Places like the Saint Louis Zoo are asking every child over the age of 9 to wear a mask. There’s science behind that number. Elward said in general, children under the age of 9 can’t cough forcefully enough to generate the larger droplets that spread COVID-19.

“At the age of 9 though, we'd expect most kids would be able to developmentally keep a mask on, not touch it all the time. And then those are the kids who are older than nine who are probably going to be generating deeper coughs and more forceful aerosols."

You can watch the full interview with Dr. Elward here.

Copyright 2020 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved


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