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The latest updates on the COVID-19 outbreak in South Florida. This page ended its updates as of August 2020. Head here for additional stories on COVID-19 and the pandemic.

Coronavirus FAQ: Should I Wear A Mask To Walk Outside? What Mask Is Best? Is Visiting People Safe?

Gerry Broome

In the past two weeks, there have been higher and higher numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Florida. With that in mind, we thought it'd be a good time to answer a few questions questions we've heard being discussed online, in our video chats and around South Florida.

These may not all be critical questions, but they're definitely interesting. If you have a question you'd like us to consider for a future story, please email us at talktous@wlrnnews.org with the subject line "COVID question."

I'm leaving my home and going outdoors, should I wear a mask?

Yes. All of the health experts we spoke to, along with the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, say you should cover your nose and mouth anytime you're outside your home and around others who don't live with you, especially when social distancing is hard to maintain

"The purpose of the face covering is really to reduce transmission of the virus, particularly from me to you," says Dr. John McFadden, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences and a professor of anesthesiology at Barry University. 

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And, by the way, wearing a mask doesn't mean you don't need to social distance. It's an additional measure to protect yourself, the CDC says. This is a respiratory infection transmitted through droplets traveling through the air. Best case is to assume you have it and wear a mask to prevent the virus' spread. 

Should I wear my mask in my car?

If you're alone, you don't have to. If someone else outside of your household is in the car with you, you should.

If you roll your window down to talk to someone you don't live with, you should have a mask on. That's especially important when pulling up to a drive-thru for fast food, or at the pharmacy when you're in close contact with another person.  

Should I carry a mask when I go out for a run?

The short answer? Yes.

“When you're exercising your breathing gets deeper and faster and harder, and probably you increase the amount of viral load that you're exhaling if you do happen to have COVID-19,” says McFadden, the professor from Barry University. “So we have to be particularly careful when we're exercising in the presence of other people.”

Say, for example, you're running, in this instance you don't have to wear a mask. But it won’t hurt to have one with you in case you approach a lot of people and you can slip it on at least momentarily. 

“It really comes down to being a good citizen,” McFadden says. “If everyone wears face coverings and practices physical distancing, the spread of the virus, particularly from those who are either asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic, will be greatly reduced.” 

Do I really have to wear a mask?

Again, the short answer here in South Florida? Yes.

While Gov. Ron DeSantis hasn't issued a statewide mask policy, he's also not preempting local municipalities from putting out their own. As of July 2, all of South Florida — Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Broward and Monroe counties — has established mandatory mask ordiances.

For example, in Miami-Dade, it's now required to wear face coverings inside and outside, even with social distancing. There are a few exceptions like for children under 2; anyone doing strenuous activity; while eating, smoking or drinking (see exceptions here) In Broward, masks are required where social distancing isn't possible

What mask is best to get?

Overall, N95 respirator masks offer you the most protection. But those masks are in limited supply, so leave them to be worn by healthcare workers and first responders.

Like like N95, there's a KN95 masks, too. These are supposed to filter out more than 95 percent of particles, but there are a lot of counterfeits making their way around. The best ones for most of us, non-medical workers, are the blue surgical grade ones — according to Cindy Prins, epidemologist and assistant dean at the University of Florida College of Public Health.

They're designed to protect people from the wearer. Laboratory testing has found that surgical masks block out 75 percent of respiratory-droplet-size particles. Protection from fabric masks depends on what they're made out of and how well they fit. More on that from NPR here.

One big thing to keep in mind, she says, is fit. If your mask doesn't fit properly — whether it's too big or too small — it can defeat the purpose. Also, putting the mask beneath your nose is a bad call. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, studies suggest COVID-19 can spread through breathing. 

Credit Photo illustration by Max Posner/NPR
Left to right: a neck gaiter (aka a buff) that slips over the head; a KN95 respirator, a version of the N95 respirator used in U.S. hospitals; a pleated surgical mask (below the KN95); a cloth mask.

But it's hot... 

Of course, in the blazing heat and humidity of South Florida summer, your mask will get sweaty and you’ll want to wash it. Prins says you can, but just not with bleach. 

“If you're washing with bleach, you're going to have breakdown of both the fabric and any elastic on the mask,” she says. That's even true for regular detergent. "You may see that the mask doesn't fit as effectively anymore. So you want to keep an eye on that as you're reusing them. You always want to make sure that it's in good shape, and doesn't have tears or holes, that the elastic is still going to work to keep that mask on your face while you're doing whatever activity you're doing.”

I want to visit my parents, but I'm worry that taking a flight is too risky. And yet a road trip could take a day of driving and stopping at public restrooms a lot. What would be better — risk it and fly or take the long route?

Some airlines are decreasing the number of passengers on a plane, and enforcing mask use, but others aren't as strict. Dr. Yuval Levy of Sheba Medical Center in Israel says driving by car is safer. 

According to Levy: "While you probably will need to stop for a rest, it would be much easier for you and for your family to keep distance from other people, from people around you, and thereby making it safer coronavirus-wise."

But Dr. Maria Alcaide, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Miami, said one should also consider the risk of infecting others, not just oneself on a trip.

"The other risk is also of a bringing the virus to areas where the numbers are lower with you if you come from a high-risk area like Florida and then you bring it elsewhere," she says. "So that's the other concern, or to come into a high-risk area where there's a lot of transmission" and bring it to your area.

And on top of all that, you have to consider the self-quarantine enforced on people coming from Florida in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, for instance, or in other countries for travelers coming from the U.S.

"I think all those need to be taken in consideration when deciding when, where and how to travel and who to visit."