From addressing myths to who should be wearing them, here’s a guide to mask-wearing

In Johnson County, masks are required in most public situations, falling in line with Gov. Laura Kelly’s statewide face-covering guidelines. But masks are rendered almost useless if they aren’t worn correctly, said Dr. Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention and antimicrobial stewardship at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Photo credit Elvert Barnes. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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In Johnson County, masks are required in most public situations, falling in line with Gov. Laura Kelly’s statewide face-covering guidelines.

Dr. Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention and antimicrobial stewardship at the University of Kansas Medical Center, said masks can prevent people from spreading and contracting COVID-19 when worn regularly and properly. But, masks are rendered almost useless if they aren’t worn correctly, Dr. Hawkinson said.

Properly wearing a mask

Whenever you put on a mask, you must:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer

  • Touch only the loops or strings as you put it on

  • Take special care not to touch it while you wear it

  • Make sure it is fitted over your nose and under your chin

When you have returned to your home or are able to properly social distance again, you must:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer

  • Remove the mask by only touching the loops or strings that tie the mask to your head

  • Immediately wash the mask if it is reusable or dispose of it

Director of Media Relations for the KU Health System Jill Chadwick, said a really important part of the process is practicing good hand hygiene.

“Clean hands before help eliminate germs around your face,” Chadwick said. “Clean hands after help prevent spread of germs that may have collected on your mask.”

How it works

“There is good evidence and encouraging evidence that masks do help provide some protection against infection,” Dr. Hawkinson said.

Nonsurgical masks — for example cloth, homemade masks — are not necessarily as effective at preventing a person from contracting COVID-19 as they are from stopping a person from spreading it, but could still offer protection to those who wear them.

“There is some data to suggest that even cloth masks will help reduce the risk of you getting infected anywhere from 40 to 80 percent of what a surgical mask will provide,” Dr. Hawkinson said.

Masks and other face-coverings act as a barrier between individuals, and are effective because they trap droplets that could spread the virus through coughing, talking, sneezing and other ways in which droplets are expelled from the body, per guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mask-wearing myths

One myth circulating is that masks can prevent you from properly breathing, but that isn’t true for most people, said Director of Media Relations for the KU Health System Jill Chadwick.The only exception to that would be people with chronic breathing problems. Photo credit Elvert Barnes. Used under a Creative Commons license.

There are myths circulating about wearing masks, a number of which are false or mischaracterized, Chadwick said.

One major myth is that masks can prevent you from breathing fully — that’s not true for most people, she said.

The only exception to that would be people with chronic breathing problems, such as lung disease and COPD.

“For the rest of us … masks pose no risk of suffocating,” Chadwick said in an email. “By and large, the public is being asked to wear masks for small amounts of time compared to doctors and nurses who wear masks for hours at time everyday.”

Another myth is that prolonged mask-wearing can cause other illnesses. This is simply false, Chadwick said.

Masks prevent illness and do not cause illness,” she said.

People can develop skin irritation that might lead to dry skin or “maskne” — acne caused by wearing a mask for a long period of time — but that’s not a long-term problem or illness. In fact, it can be solved by washing your face and moisturizing more where your skin becomes irritated.

If you notice that you are breaking out after wearing a mask, it might be a sign that you are not washing your mask frequently enough, Chadwick said.

Masks at daycares and licensed summer camps 

At Johnson County Park and Recreation District summer camps, children are not required to wear masks, which falls in line with guidance from the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment as well as the state health department, JCPRD Children Services Manager Jennifer Anderson said.

“To date the guidance has been to not recommend or require children to wear masks,” Marketing and Communications Manager for JCPRD Richard Smalley said.

If that guidance were to change, Smalley said, JCPRD would comply.

JCPRD keeps children at their camps in smaller, consistent cohorts and recommends that staff members wear masks when social distancing is not possible, Anderson said.

“There is a little bit of evidence to suggest that children are not as susceptible or able to spread the disease as much as adults,” Dr. Hawkinson said. “However, they still can spread the disease and they still can get illness and even severe illness, although in a lower propensity to what adults get it [at].”

Children in indoor camps at the Shawnee Mission School District through JCPRD are required to wear masks, but Anderson said that is so the camp follows the district’s mask-wearing policy.

Chadwick said masks aren’t recommended for young children because they are likely to have a hard time finding one that fits and could mess with it a lot which could lead to cross-contamination, rendering the mask useless.

Though masks aren’t widely used by the children at JCPRD outdoor and indoor camps, there are added precautions, Anderson said. In addition to limiting campers to smaller groups, counselors clean high-touch points more frequently, require regular hand-washing and administer COVID-19 screenings at the start of every day.

“We take our jobs very seriously. I mean we love what we do but it was really really important to us this year that we put extra steps in place to make sure that these kids are safe,” Anderson said.