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Are We Not Using Our Masks Correctly?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Beginning Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now requires people traveling on planes, trains, buses or other forms of public transit to wear masks.

The requirement follows the recommendation made by doctors last month that people start wearing two masks. Some of the transit rules worth noting:

  • Bandanas and scarves do not qualify.
  • A neck gaiter must be two layers or folded to make two layers.
  • A face shield can be used if it's worn with a mask.
  • Travelers two years or younger don't have to wear one.

As routine as grabbing your daily cup of coffee, masking up is almost second nature. Pamela Elliot was well prepared during her coffee run Tuesday in Bloomington.

"I have little bag full of them [laughs]!" Elliot said.

But for how many we own and how often we wear them, doctors remain concerned. Dr. Michael Osterholm, former COVID-19 advisor to President Joe Biden, said on "Meet the Press" earlier this week that research has found that up to 25% of people wear their masks under their noses.

"That's like fixing three of the five screen doors on your submarine," Osterholm said.

We should know that part by now, but like research on COVID-19 itself, proper mask usage evolves.

Why are we now being asked to wear more than one mask?

WCCO spoke with Richard Danila, deputy state epidemiologist with the Minnesota Department of Health.

"It's just makes common sense that it's gonna provide added protection," Danila said.

He said wearing two masks, like a cloth and surgical mask, could be beneficial for elderly or at-risk groups.

"The mask that [most people] should be wearing should be a good, at least two-ply mask," he said.

Violinist Wearing Face Mask
(credit: CBS)

Elliott was wearing a mask that had three layers as she picked up her coffee.

"I know it's going to prevent me from getting COVID," she said.

That third layer you can't see her mask is a filter that Buddy Michaelson inserts into all of the masks he sells right next to the coffee shop.

"We actually use the same filter as the N95's use, which is 100% polypropylene in between the two layers that are 100% cotton," Michaelson said.

His business, Rocket Man Masks, started in his family home and grew into its own store last fall. He has hundreds of designs and sizes. All have three layers and the overwhelming majority have a filter. Having a mask with three layers, including a filter, essentially covers the two-mask recommendation, according to Danila.

"I think it's definitely important to know what's in the mask when you're buying it," Michaelson said. "For me it was really important to make a high-quality mask. Something that would work and not just be for fashion, but have that filter and be very effective."

How should we be handling our masks?

Danila says it starts with how you touch it.

"You could of course be depositing viruses on the surface, and so you don't want to be touching your mask all the time and then like touching your eyes," Danila said.

That's why you should only touch the straps on the side when removing it and wash or sanitize your hands afterwards.

Can you wear a mask more than once?

If you've been talking with a group of people, the mask could get contaminated by others -- which warrants being cleaned. But if you had little to no interaction with others, Danila said wearing it a second time is fine. It all depends on how many people you've been around and the type of interaction. That being said, he recommends cleaning your masks often in the laundry using hot water.

"Sometimes I get in the car, and I pull it down just on my chin," Elliot said.

It's what many of us do once we're no longer in the grocery store. Experts say limiting how often we touch our mask is important, so it's suggested we skip how often we pull it down or remove it.

"Let's say if you're gonna go out and do four, five different stops, different places, stores, just leave the mask on," Danila said. "Don't be taking it on and off, manipulating it."

Click here to see the full list of CDC requirements regarding masks and public travel.

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