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How to know if your mask is still effective

As Texas hit a new daily record for COVID-19 cases, KVUE spoke to an infectious disease specialist about how to know if your mask is still effective.

AUSTIN, Texas — Infectious disease specialist Dr. Charles Lerner said there's a storm coming and we're seeing the outer bank clouds right now.

"We will see the hospitalization rates climb after Thanksgiving. And again, we'll see it after Christmas and New Year's," Dr. Lerner said.

Dr. Lerner sits on the Texas Medical Association's COVID-19 Task Force. 

His gloomy prediction drives home the importance of both wearing masks and making sure that the masks we wear are effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19.

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Let's go over the different types of masks and how to check their effectiveness. We'll start with the gold standard: N-95 masks.

A recent study stated that after two uses, N-95 masks' effectiveness drops by 50%. But Dr. Lerner doesn't recommend these masks for the general public anyway because only medical professionals are properly fitted for them. 

"The only way to ensure that [an] N-95 respirator works is to be properly tested or, in the absence of that, seal it with Vaseline to your face. That's very unpleasant," Dr. Lerner said.

WATCH: How long should you keep a face mask – and which kind?

Next up, there's the surgical mask or the blue and white disposal mask. Dr. Lerner said to wear this type of mask once and then throw it away.

The same goes for cloth masks: Wash them after each use.

To test the wear and tear of a cloth mask, hold it up to the light. If you can see any light coming through, it's time to throw it out.

KVUE also asked about the masks with embellishments on them, like fake diamonds and sequins.

"Well, if you're doing diamonds ... You may actually decrease the effectiveness of the mask," Dr. Lerner said.

And bad news if you like to wear gaiters and bandanas: Dr. Lerner said those offer virtually no protection at all.

He said masks are the best way to go, whether you're having symptoms or not because more than half of all COVID-19 transmissions occur from people who don't know they're infected and 40% of people who are infected are asymptomatic.


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