LA County requires you to wear a face covering when entering or working in an essential business, such as the grocery store or pharmacy.
What about when you go outside for a walk, run, or bike ride? You probably have enough space to be socially distant, but wearing a mask goes beyond the science of safety.
“It's a way to signal some good,” says Paula Cannon, professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Keck School of Medicine at USC. “It's like a way of saying to my neighbors, ‘I care about you as much as I care about myself and my family.’ So, you know, there's a psychological component to it.”
That said, Cannon often hangs her mask around her neck when she’s on the back streets of her neighborhood or exercising on a hot day in nature.
“That's for a situation where I'm outdoors, there's nobody around, and it's just a convenient place to keep it so that I can put it over my face if I encounter somebody else on a trail,” she says.
Otherwise, when she’s out in public, her mask is on her face, covering both her nose and mouth. If she sees someone wearing a mask incorrectly, she pantomimes to them, hoping they see the crinkle around her eyes that signal a smile.
“I try to do it in a gracious, helpful way, so people don't feel that I'm criticizing or shaming them,” she says.
When she gets home, Cannon throws her mask away or tosses it in the laundry if it's reusable. If that’s not an option, Cannon recommends placing your mask outside, preferably in the sun, for three days to make sure any germs have died if you plan to reuse it. She advises that disposable masks, like a surgical mask, need to be disposed of directly after you’ve finished using it.
Cannon says that the county’s mask guidelines are important, but understanding why we have them in place is even more important.
“You can’t just give people rules. You have to give people the reason behind them. And then people can make their own common sense decisions about it and feel good that they are doing the right thing, and they’re helping in this fight against the virus.”