A person holds a mask while walking outside in Philadelphia, Friday, May 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) Virus Outbreak Pennsylvania
A person holds a mask while walking outside in Philadelphia, Friday, May 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Dr. Debra Powell, of Reading Hospital, explains why masks are an important element in the fight against COVID-19 and answers some frequently asked questions about the masking debate.

To mask, or not to mask. That seems to be the ongoing debate in every corner of Pennsylvania (and the country) lately. 

While everyone seems to have an opinion on the pesky face coverings, not many have the answers to some of the most frequently asked mask questions. 

Do masks work? Why do we have to wear them if we are fully vaccinated? Does wearing a mask for a prolonged period of time cause the wearer harm?

Read on for the answers to these and other questions provided by Dr. Debra Powell, chief of Infectious Diseases Division at Reading Hospital—Tower Health.

Why Should I Wear a Mask?

Wearing a mask helps prevent the spread of germs others might inhale. It also protects you from breathing in germs that others might exhale.

Who Should Wear a Mask?

Mask recommendations can change frequently and differ among areas or organizations. Hospitals, for example, now require masking for anyone over the age of 2. Some businesses and local governments may also have different recommendations. According to Powell, when in doubt, wear a mask.

What Kind of Mask Should I Wear?

For most people, fabric masks are considered an effective choice, Powell said. It’s a good idea to have multiple masks, so that you can have a clean daily supply. 

How Often Do I Need to Wash or Change My Mask?

If your mask becomes soiled, wet, or contaminated, it should be removed and either washed or thrown away. A cloth mask can be worn for a day and then washed. The CDC recommends changing disposable masks after each use.

Do not touch your mask in the mouth/nose area, Powell said. If it needs to be readjusted, use the ear straps.

Does Wearing a Mask for an Extended Period of Time Cause Harm?

Powell said there is no data or report that suggests masks cause harm to the wearer. If ear loops are irritating, consider a mask that ties around the back of the head.

Can I Wear Something Other Than a Mask, Like a Face Shield?

Because of their frequent and prolonged interactions with patients, Powell said healthcare workers often wear a face shield in addition to a mask. For people in normal settings, there is no clear data yet on the added value of face shields. 

“We know that face masks, when worn properly with a secure fit over the nose and mouth, are very effective in preventing the exhalation or inhalation of germs and viruses,” Powell said.

Why Do I Need to Wear a Mask if I’m Fully Vaccinated?

People who are vaccinated can still contract COVID-19. Powell said there is strong evidence that vaccinated individuals typically have a milder version of the virus, but they can still spread it to others.

“The COVID-19 virus is still in our communities and positive cases, hospitalizations, and deaths continue to rise in our region and across the country,” Powell said. “I encourage all eligible people to get vaccinated as soon as possible. The vaccine is safe and effective in discouraging the spread of the virus, limiting symptoms, and preventing hospitalizations and death.”