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If you’re confused by the latest recommendations, you’re not alone

Three mask-wearing individuals in different colored boxes (green, yellow, and red) indicating varying levels of Covid-19 risk.
Three mask-wearing individuals in different colored boxes (green, yellow, and red) indicating varying levels of Covid-19 risk.
Image: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

On May 13, 2021 the CDC issued updated guidance on masks. For the most updated recommendations, please visit the CDC’s website

Facing the more contagious coronavirus requires better fit and filtering, or doubling up, and watching out for fakes

Photo: PansLaos/Getty Images

With the coronavirus evolving to be more contagious, it might take fewer virus particles to make you sick. Just maintaining the same level of protection you had against the initial strain therefore requires a more effective mask. But the choices are bewildering, ranging from the gold-standard N95s to highly effective surgical masks to a slew of reusable options that range from good to fraudulent.

We’ll be wearing masks for a while. Everything you need to know about this new fixture in our lives.

Illustration: Peter Gabriel Gehrman

Masks are here to stay. Regardless of their rocky status at the start of this pandemic, face coverings are officially a fixture of American life, a visible, enduring legacy of the pandemic that also helps reduce the spread of influenza and as-yet-undiscovered viruses sure to vex us in the future.

People are reporting that wearing masks make them feel less anxious and more confident

Photo: LeoPatrizi/Getty Images

For as long as she can remember, Betsy O’Donnell, a Delray Beach, Florida-based UX designer, has lived with social anxiety. As a child, this usually manifested as a fear of using public bathrooms and talking to other kids. Now 31, O’Donnell goes to therapy and takes medication to manage her anxiety but she still experiences unpleasant pangs of stress before giving presentations at work or when meeting new people.

The rise of the ‘smize’

A man smiling while wearing a protective face mask.
A man smiling while wearing a protective face mask.
Photo: kyonntra/E+/Getty Images

All smiles are not created equal: We have different smiles for different situations. There are spontaneous smiles that indicate true joy. And then there are “social smiles,” the ones people use to communicate — like the no-you-go-first smile at the grocery line, the hello-neighbor smile when you pass someone you recognize on a hiking path, the hey-good-lookin’ smile when you spot someone attractive you’d like to know better, and the sorry-not-sorry smile when you one-up a rival.

What are epidemiologists, virologists, and doctors putting on their (and their families’) faces in day-to-day life?

Photo: CasarsaGuru/Getty Images

As masks have become as critical to people’s daily routines as brushing their teeth and grabbing their keys — per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “cloth face coverings are a critical tool in the fight against Covid-19” — it’s also become clear that not all masks are created equal. And with so many options hitting the market, it can be hard to decide what kind to buy and wear, especially since masks that are excellent for one activity can be uncomfortable for others. Here’s what coronavirus experts are wearing in their own lives.

For all-day use: A comfortable cloth or surgical mask (and possibly a few of them)

“I wear a cloth or…

For decades, staff have used a mask that’s much more effective than the N95, and is reusable

Photo: Honeywell Safety

On the southeast side of San Antonio, Texas, a small hospital that faces a shopping mall on what used to be an air force base is suddenly fielding a flurry of calls about a possible solution to the N95 mask shortage.

Instructional illustrations: Na Kim

Personal protective equipment is only as effective as the person wearing it. Here’s how to avoid cross-contamination.

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed course and began recommending the use of cloth face masks in public places where maintaining social distancing may be difficult.

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