What is the best way to wear a mask sometimes?


A: Masking sometimes is a form of harm reduction. Here are tips to help you rock the mask when it matters most.

Keep a good mask handy and incorporate masking into common high risk activities. Mask in the company of people who also mask. Be ready to increase and decrease mask wearing as circumstances change.

Fewer people are wearing masks in public but masks are still really useful tools to decrease the risk of infection from COVID-19 and other viruses. It can be hard to decide when it is best to wear a mask…. or not. Those Nerdy Girls are here to guide you in how to mask sometimes – an act of harm reduction. Harm reduction strategies decrease the risk of human behaviors when it’s difficult or impossible to eliminate the risk completely.

😷 Wear a good mask.

When you mask, use a high-filtration mask like a KN95 or N95. These types of masks are best at preventing viral transmission. Keep a stock of the ones you like. It’s time to retire your cloth masks unless you are wearing them on top of a high filtration mask.

👜 Keep a mask handy.

Keep a mask in your bag, at home, in your car, at work, etc. for situations where you need it. For example, you planned to walk home but it’s raining so you are taking the crowded bus instead. Maybe you get a call at work from the person you had dinner with yesterday who just tested positive for COVID-19 and now you are a close contact. Be ready to act quickly when you need to by having a mask on hand.

✈️ Make situation specific habits

Our brains are not great at “maybe”. People are far more likely to be consistent in a habit when the rule is the same every time. You can apply this theory to mask wearing by determining the settings and activities when you will wear a mask and consistently practicing the behavior. For example, you might decide to always mask on public transportation or at the gym due to higher risks for exposure. By making the mask a habit in a specific situation, you are more likely to be successful at being consistent.

🤗 Demonstrate kindness

If you are in the company of someone who chooses to mask, especially close company, putting on your mask is a gesture of caring. There are many reasons people continue to mask. By wearing a mask , you decrease the risk of viral transmission AND support someone who may have things harder than you.

💪 Normalize flexing up or down

It’s OK to increase and decrease mask wearing based on situational circumstances. This might include things like high community rates of illness, personal health, important events, and other reasons. When surges of infections occur, masking more often makes a whole lot of sense. If you or a close contact recently recovered from an illness but are returning to public settings, masking for a few days can add a layer of protection. If you are planning a big life event like a medical procedure or trip, masking ahead of time can decrease the risk of disruptions. It’s OK to increase and decrease your mask wearing. We need to embrace this behavior.

Masking always or never leaves out many useful options in between. By wearing a mask when it really matters, the risk of infection to you and others is decreased. Masks will continue to be important tools to decrease the disruption and illness caused by COVID-19 (and many other viruses). Use the tool.

Additional Resources

Atlantic article on the decrease in masking by Katherine Wu

Does my mask still work if no one else is wearing one by Those Nerdy Girls

Beginner’s Guide to Harm Reduction Principles

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