If you are traveling, you still might want to wear a mask. But, you would be more protected if you weren’t near people who are sick. Experts in contagious diseases pointed out that masks are useful if worn properly. To do that, the user must wear the mask tightly over the mouth and over the bridge of the noise. The mask also must be tucked under the chin. A lot of people naturally touch their faces. If you scratch your nose underneath the mask with a hand that is not perfectly clean, the mask is no longer fully protective. And, we all tend to touch our eyes. If your hands are contaminated with a virus and you inadvertently touch your face or eyes (even while wearing a mask), you could transfer the virus onto your face.

Expert’s advice, especially for those traveling the globe, is to wash hands frequently and avoid being around sick people. And, if we are sick ourselves, we should cover our coughs and not sneeze on people. This virus is spread through coughing and sneezing. If you are sick and are trying to protect those around you, any face mask that entirely covers your mouth and nose will do. You should replace these periodically, every couple of hours or so. If you are trying to avoid catching a cold, flu, etc, from others you need to change the mask every 20 minutes or so, as keeping it on for any longer will increase your risk of getting infected as the mask itself is likely to collect pathogens and keep them close to your mouth and nose.

If you are concerned with the latter, a face mask may offer some very limited protection, but it is worth considering that the vast majority of all flues and colds (as well as many other illnesses) enter your body through your eyes. How? They are carried there by your hands.

The key to staying healthy during and after a long flight is to keep sanitizing your hands. Wash them thoroughly before and after handling food, and before you take a nap, as you are likely to rub or at the very least touch near your eyes when you are tired.

How to put on a face mask

Clean your hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer before touching the mask. Remove a mask from the box and make sure there are no obvious tears or holes in either side of the mask. Determine which side of the mask is the top. The side of the mask that has a stiff bendable edge is the top and is meant to mold to the shape of your nose. Determine which side of the mask is the front. The colored side of the mask is usually the front and should face away from you, while the white side touches your face. Follow the instructions below for the type of mask you are using:

– Face Mask with Earloops: Hold the mask by the ear loops. Place a loop around each ear.
– Face Mask with Ties: Bring the mask to your nose level and place the ties over the crown of your head and secure with a bow.
– Face Mask with Bands: Hold the mask in your hand with the nosepiece or top of the mask at fingertips, allowing the headbands to hang freely below hands.  Bring the mask to your nose level and pull the top strap over your head so that it rests over the crown of your head.  Pull the bottom strap over your head so that it rests at the nape of your neck.
– Mold or pinch the stiff edge to the shape of your nose.
– If using a face mask with ties: Then take the bottom ties, one in each hand, and secure with a bow at the nape of your neck.
– Pull the bottom of the mask over your mouth and chin.

How to remove a face mask:

Clean your hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer before touching the mask. Avoid touching the front of the mask. The front of the mask is contaminated. Only touch the ear loops/ties/band. Follow the instructions below for the type of mask you are using.

– Face Mask with Earloops: Hold both of the ear loops and gently lift and remove the mask.
– Face Mask with Ties: Untie the bottom bow first then untie the top bow and pull the mask away from you as the ties are loosened.
– Face Mask with Bands: Lift the bottom strap over your head first then pull the top strap over your head.
– Throw the mask in the trash. Clean your hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer.

Wipe down your armrests, tray, and anything that you will touch in flight. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and wash your hands for at least 20 seconds using soap and water — especially before eating or touching your face. 

Most commercial airlines are equipped with HEPA filtration systems and air exchange on a plane is quite frequent — around 20 to 30 times per hour. This filtration should remove 99.7% of all particles in the air, including biological material.

If you decide to get a mask, which one should you buy?

All masks list their effectiveness in their description and will indicate the percentage of particulates that they can block. For example, a mask listed as N95% will keep out 95% of particles, an N99 blocks 99%, and so on. A general patient mask will likely block moisture, but as the mask is not completely sealed, it won’t necessarily block anything incoming. There’s still a risk of inhaling the virus.

There are things you can do on your next flight to reduce your risk of catching a wide variety of viruses. Wipe down the surfaces, wash your hands and practice general good hygiene measures. However, adding a face mask to your carry-on bag essentials isn’t likely to protect you from coronavirus. If you have to travel and you’re the one coughing and sneezing, wearing a mask may help protect your seat neighbors from catching what you’ve got.

By: Gerald Winik