Picks

A Health Reporter’s Favorite Mask

Face masks
Old Navy

It’s been more than three months since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that all Americans wear cloth face coverings in public. It has taken me about as long to find masks that I don’t hate, but I have finally done so. They are: Old Navy masks.

Old Navy masks do not pull on the ears, and the ear loops are soft. The fabric feels crisp. They do not feel suffocating to wear, and because they fit comfortably over my nose (you have to cover your nose for masks to work!), I don’t find myself fidgeting with them (and therefore potentially transferring virus particles from their surface to my face, or vice versa). I don’t wear glasses, so the fact that they don’t have a metal nose bridge is a non-issue for me. They don’t sit directly against my mouth and also don’t leave large gaps at my cheeks, though depending on the size of your face, your experience may vary. They are inexpensive: five masks for $12.50. There are kid’s sizes too.

How effective one fabric mask is compared with the next is a little hard to pin down; none will drop your chances of spreading, let alone getting, the virus to zero. But with three layers of cotton fabric, Old Navy masks fit the CDC’s recommendations, and they pass what one Canadian health official calls the “window test”: when held up to a bright window, not much light gets through. In the course of doing other interviews for my job as a health reporter, I checked with two experts that these offer enough protection for the world from your maybe-germy mouth. (After all what about filters?) Both made some version of the point that the best mask is one you’ll wear consistently.

It’s easy to buy Old Navy masks in bulk—they come in packs of three, five, and 10—which is important. Technically, you should wash your mask after every wear, or at least if it’s dirty or wet, or if you’re not able to store it in a plastic bag. Having a surplus of masks also means you can stash extras in various totes, purses, and your car, to have on hand in case you forget a mask or if the one you’re wearing gets sweaty during this summer’s record heat. These masks come in tons of colors and patterns. The only downside is that you have to buy them in variety packs, so if you’re picky, you might end up with some designs you don’t want. Which is actually great: You’ll have reserves on hand you can give to friends.

For more of Slate’s coronavirus coverage, listen to What Next.