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Many North Carolinians were encouraged earlier this month when Gov. Roy Cooper announced that the state would ease COVID-19 restrictions and enter into Safer at Home Phase 2.5.

This dimmer switch approach to easing restrictions allowed indoor and outdoor gathering sizes to slightly increase, playgrounds to open, and gyms to operate at limited capacity.

Yolanda Enrich FNP at Novant Health Adult Primary Care in Waughtown
Yolanda Enrich, FNP

But not everyone is happy with the governor’s conservative approach to reopen the state, and it came to a head recently when parents made a Hail Mary attempt to attend their kids’ college football games. The request was denied.

“I understand the frustration,” said Yolanda Enrich, a family nurse practitioner at Novant Health who has been on the frontline treating patients since the beginning of the pandemic. “But as things start to reopen, we must all practice patience and do our part to help slow the spread and flatten the curve.”

For football fans, that might mean watching the game from home for now. Below, Enrich answers the latest batch of questions around masking from Healthy Headline readers. Have a question? Use the comment function at the bottom of the story to send it to us.

Some states don’t have the same mask and gathering restrictions that we have in North Carolina. If I travel to one of those places, should I continue to wear my mask or just follow the rules of that state?

I appreciate everyone’s desire to get back to life as normal. And I think it’s unfortunate that wearing a mask has become such a political issue. But it’s been proven that wearing a mask will help keep you and those around you better protected against COVID-19. The more we mask, the faster we can curb the spread. One of the key reasons we’re reopening more activities is because masking has worked.

If you do travel to a state without a mask requirement, I would absolutely still recommend that you continue to wear a mask and practice social distancing while you are away. This will also help keep your loved ones safe when you return home.

With gyms and playgrounds reopening, should I continue to wear a mask?

Under phase 2.5, gyms are supposed to require members to wear a mask, but I’ve heard that some people are taking them off. Again, I get it. No one wants to exercise with a mask on, but there are ways to safely build up to it. I would also still recommend exercising outside, where you can social distance and not be required to wear a mask.

Since most playgrounds are outside, this is a generally healthy option for kids. But make sure children are still social distancing, not touching their faces, and washing their hands afterward.

I recently spent time with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID. Should I get tested now?

Ideally you should be tested 5-7 days after exposure, but in the meantime you should self-isolate to avoid potential spread. If you think you need to be tested, you can take a coronavirus self-assessment and also call Novant Health’s 24/7 helpline at 877-9NOVANT for next steps.

Virtual care appointments are also available so patients can receive care from the comfort of their homes.

I accidently put my mask on the “wrong way” with the outside part facing my mouth. What should I do?

You are not the first to have made this mistake. But try to avoid doing it in the future as the outside facing part of the mask could be contaminated.

Some cloth masks have different color sides to help prevent this problem from happening, but if this happens to you, wash your hands and face as soon as you are able to and get a new mask. If it is a reusable cloth mask, wash it and then resume use.  

A recent study said that wearing a gaiter mask for COVID-19 may be worse than wearing no mask at all. What is the best type of mask to keep me safe?

I would recommend using a cloth mask made with at least two layers of dense woven material. The mask should cover your nose and mouth without any large gaps. You should also never touch the front of your mask as it might be contaminated. Instead, you should only touch the ear loops or ties on the back when putting the mask on or taking it off.

Can I wear a face shield instead of a mask?

While I can understand the appeal, the CDC does not currently recommend the use of face shields as a substitute for masks. More evidence is needed on this topic, but if you do decide to go with a face shield, make sure that it wraps around the sides of your head and extends below your chin. Another safe option is to wear both a mask and a face shield.  

I have asthma, is wearing a face mask safe for me?

Yes, a mask should not trigger your asthma. However, dust in your mask may, so it is important to wash it often.

 Is it a good idea to spray disinfectant or waterproofing spray on my mask?

No there is no need to do that, it may actually make the mask moist and difficult for air exchange. Just use a double layer, dense woven material mask and wash it frequently allowing it to dry completely.

 I’ve seen some masks with a valve on the side, is that better than the traditional mask?

No, masks with one way valves (like the ones you are describing) should not be used, there is no need for a filter in a cloth mask, the traditional two layer mask offers better protection.

I know the CDC said that children under 2 shouldn’t wear a mask, but is there anything else I can do to keep my baby safe in the grocery story?

If at all possible avoid taking your child into the grocery store. But, if you do go in together, make sure you avoid prolonged exposure to others when you are not able to maintain a safe distance. You should also make sure you disinfect the shopping carts in the areas the baby will be touching and clean his/her hands frequently.  

Do you have any suggestions for people that have to work outside and struggle with the heat?

This summer has been hot. And wearing a mask while working is a tough task for anyone. Try to drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated. And if possible, I’d recommend taking some socially-distanced breaks so you can cool off without the mask. And remember, if the mask gets moist, you should replace it with a dry one.

I’ve started getting headaches after wearing a mask for several hours at a time. Do you have any recommendations?

Start by making sure the mask is not too tight. Remember, the mask should fit snuggly, but not so tightly that it causes uncomfortable pressure. Also make sure that the mask you are wearing allows air flow without restrictions. A properly appointed mask should not cause headaches. But if they persist, please consult your doctor.

I get nauseous wearing a mask. Is there a reason why that would happen?

Some patients have shared with me that they feel nauseous when wearing a mask. This could be because of heat and moisture build up. Make sure you take breaks without the mask on, and changing the mask frequently may help.