PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — When out in public, should people wear masks all the time?

“Looking at that as a strategy, it’s worked in other countries,” says David Kish, RN, administrator at St. Clair Hospital. “The benefit of masking on a wider scale is not so much that it prevents the inhalation of the virus, it’s sort of covering your cough with a tissue.”

Keeping your droplets to yourself is important because early in a coronavirus infection, you may not have symptoms.

An N95 mask makes a seal on your face and filters 95 percent of 0.3 µm particles.

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That’s 250 times smaller than the width of the human hair.

A surgical mask is about 60 percent as effective as an N95 mask.

A homemade cloth mask works about one-third as well as a surgical mask.

Because healthcare workers need N95 and surgical masks, you can make your own mask.

“We want to make sure the right masks, the right styles of masks, are available to healthcare providers. Not that the public is less important, but you really want to put your precious resources where the highest risk is,” says Kish.

Studies show masks decreased the spread of the flu in households in Germany. Masks also decreased the rate of flu-like illness among college students in Michigan, as long as they also washed their hands.

This points to the dilemma of wearing masks: you may touch your face more, so you still need to keep your hands clean.

And you need to be careful handling the mask.

“You have to be sure you’re taking them off correctly, so you don’t contaminate yourself. You certainly don’t want to touch the front part of the mask,” Kish said.

To avoid the germs on the front, take the mask off by the ear loops.

If you use a scarf, bandanna or homemade cloth mask, toss it in the washer as soon as you get home.

Then wash your hands.

Dr. Maria Simbra