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Should I wear a coronavirus mask every time I leave my house? Here’s what experts say

Two cyclists wearing face masks on Cesar E. Chavez Blvd in Los Angeles.
Two cyclists wearing face masks pedal along Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard in Los Angeles.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Wearing face coverings or masks when conducting essential business like shopping and keeping medical appointments is now the law in many parts of California.

But some jurisdictions are going further, requiring face coverings in most public settings.

Beverly Hills, Glendale and Riverside County require people to wear masks whenever they go outside, including for walks in their neighborhoods.

Some health experts say it doesn’t hurt to take the extra precautions.

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Dr. Loren Miller, a physician and researcher at the Lundquist Institute in Torrance, said masks aren’t intended to protect the person wearing them but to shield the transfer of saliva onto another person, potentially infecting them.

Wearing masks while walking around your neighborhood is sound advice, Miller said. In a place like Los Angeles, with trails, beaches and parks closed, it’s common to see people using sidewalks as their new exercise venue. In some cases, it might not always be feasible to stay at least six feet away from one another.

Chunhuei Chi, director of the Center for Global Health at Oregon State University, says as long as you can maintain that six-foot perimeter, mask wearing isn’t imperative.

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If the running path isn’t wide enough to pass, Chi said, people can hold their breath until they’re in the clear. It’s one option he and his wife have used during their daily walks, he said.

Miller said another option is to do the “vampire move” or “dab,” where you turn your head and put your elbow over your mouth. If a person coughs or sneezes, contaminated droplets will go into their elbow.

Health experts have also suggested that you wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before and after touching your face or face coverings.

The California Department of Public Health says wearing masks may reduce asymptomatic transmission of the virus and reinforce physical distancing.

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“There is limited evidence to suggest that use of cloth face coverings by the public during a pandemic could help reduce disease transmission,” the agency said. “Their primary role is to reduce the release of infectious particles into the air when someone speaks, coughs, or sneezes, including someone who has COVID-19 but feels well.

“Cloth face coverings are not a substitute for physical distancing and washing hands and staying home when ill, but they may be helpful when combined with these primary interventions,” the agency said.

Here’s some advice from California health officials:

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  • Wash your cloth face covering frequently, ideally after each use, or at least daily.
  • Have a separate bag or bin to keep used cloth face coverings in until they can be laundered with detergent and hot water and dried on a hot cycle.
  • If you must re-wear your cloth face covering before washing, wash your hands immediately after putting it back on and avoid touching your face.
  • Discard cloth face coverings that no longer cover the nose and mouth, have stretched-out or damaged ties or straps, cannot stay on the face, or have holes or tears in the fabric

In the midst of this coronavirus crisis, I just wanted a simple mask for running essential errands, like a trip to the pharmacy. I made a no-sew mask out of a sock. It won’t win any fashion awards, but it will help keep my 76-year-old mother (and my husband and me) safe.

Los Angeles County’s new requirement on wearing face coverings went into effect Wednesday night.

Customers of essential businesses are required to wear a face covering while inside. Also, employers of essential businesses must provide all employees whose duties require contact with other people with a cloth face covering to wear.

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Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, recommended wearing a face covering anytime you’re in public places with other people, such as on a bus or a train while making an essential trip.

“If you’re all by yourself ... you can put it on if you want to, but you’re not required to,” Ferrer said.


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