Many people are donning masks when out in public to help slow the spread of COVID-19, but not all are wearing them correctly. New research suggests that if the nose isn’t covered, the purpose of wearing a mask could be defeated altogether.
This is because the nose appears to be better than the mouth at spreading the virus, according to the study, published recently in the science journal Cell.
The researchers, who are affiliated with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, mapped locations in the respiratory tract where the virus most quickly invades and spreads. The study found that the cells that line the nose were significantly more likely to become infected than those in the throat or lungs.
So when someone exhales through their nose, they are likely generating a higher concentration of infectious air than they would if breathing through their mouth, the researchers wrote.
That means it’s just as important to cover your nose as your mouth to effectively prevent that air from escaping and infecting other people.
When worn correctly, a face mask should cover from the bridge of the nose to under the chin, a separate study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.
The Cell study’s conclusion was based on examining nasal and lung tissue samples from donors of various ages and health conditions who died from COVID-19.
Wearing a mask appropriately is imperative, according to Dr. Aalok Khole, an infectious disease physician at Cheshire Medical Center in Keene.
“Only then can we truly try and achieve source control,” he said in an email. “Data has shown that this intervention can be truly efficacious in driving down the spread of this illness.”
State and national officials have encouraged people to wear face masks since the spring, as one way to reduce the number of COVID-19 infections. Other recommendations include staying home when possible, practicing proper hand hygiene and social distancing in public.
Most public places in the U.S. require a face mask now, whether through a company policy or by state officials. In New Hampshire, no statewide requirement is in place, though state health officials have encouraged mask wearing when in indoor public places.
Across the river in Vermont, Gov. Phil Scott announced a mask mandate Friday, effective Aug. 1. Brattleboro has had a town ordinance since the spring.
Keene is considering its own city-wide mask requirement, though a decision on it has not been made yet. The proposed ordinance is currently before the City Council’s Planning, Licenses and Development Committee.
And while a lot about COVID-19 is still unknown, several studies support the efficacy of masks.
Face masks work by containing the small droplets that come out of the mouth or nose when talking, sneezing or coughing.
If someone has COVID-19 but isn’t showing symptoms of the viral disease — which happens in a good chunk of the nation’s reported cases — a face mask can reduce the chance of their spreading the infection to others, the CDC says.
The CDC recommends that anyone over the age of 2 wear a face mask in public places, especially where social-distancing measures are hard to implement.
In addition to children under the age of 2, anyone who has trouble breathing or is unable to remove the mask without assistance should never wear a face mask, the CDC says.
Cloth or surgical face masks don’t adequately protect the wearer against COVID-19 but, rather, can protect others in case the wearer is infected but not showing symptoms, according to the agency.
One-time-use masks, such as surgical masks, should be thrown out after first use.
A cloth mask can be reused and washed after use. When taking it off, experts advise, avoid touching the mask’s surface — touch only the ear loops — to minimize exposure to germs that might have collected on the mask’s surface.
“In order to be successful at preventing the spread of [COVID-19],” Khole, of Cheshire Medical, said, “not only do we have to practice social distancing and hand hygiene but also wear a mask, more importantly, wear it appropriately.”