Should You Wear a Mask at Home?

From March until now, you’ve heard it hundreds of times — masks work. Considering that the coronavirus has yet to pack up and head out of town, we’ll have to keep putting up with the foggy glasses, muffled voices, mask acne and everything else for safety’s sake.

One given — we need to wear masks when we’re out in public. We’re among people we don’t know so it makes sense. But what about when we’re with friends and family in a place we know extremely well — our homes. Why should we wear masks while we’re in a familiar place with the people we love or an occasional guest or two? Isn’t that overkill?

You’d be surprised to find out that it’s actually not. With the help of infectious disease specialist Donald Dumford III, MD, MPH, we’ll cover why you should wear a mask at home, especially with the holidays fast approaching.

Wear a mask around people who don’t live with you

You’ve been on the hand washing and mask patrol since the pandemic started and you trust that everyone under your roof is physically distancing and wearing their masks in public. But you can’t really be sure about every relative or repair person who shows up at your door. Instead of guessing or assuming that they’re doing what is recommended, mask up when someone who doesn’t live with you enters your home. You can also politely ask visitors to wear masks as an extra precaution.

“We have seen many instances of transmission this way whether it be a birthday party or a baby shower. I’ve seen patients become ill after they had friends over for dinner. They thought guests were low risk, but days or weeks after the visits, they started experiencing symptoms. Some of them have even been admitted to the hospital. This just goes to show how those with COVID-19 can start to spread the virus days before becoming ill,” says Dr. Dumford.

For college students, the holidays often mean trips home for extended stays with mom, dad and sometimes grandma or grandpa, too. To reduce the risks —and rule out the unknowns (including those undercover parties with more than a few people), have the college student in your life wear a mask when they come home. If they don’t want to or have planned to hang out with friends while they’re home, it’s probably best to have them stay elsewhere.

Dr. Dumford explains why.

“You hate to tell someone so close to take these kind of precautions, but we know that this most recent wave has been fueled by mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic people between the ages of 12 and 20. In fact, we’ve seen how counties with Big Ten and Big 12 schools have had a disproportionate increase in cases of COVID-19.”

Wear a mask at home when you or someone else is sick

Is it a cold? Is it the coronavirus? If you’re not sure, it doesn’t hurt to be safe and not expose those who live with you to whatever you have. When you’re sick, wear a mask until you know that you’re in the clear. The same goes for everyone else in your home.

“Given the wide variation in symptoms, it is difficult to tell if you have COVID-19 or something else. If you have respiratory symptoms, it’s best to self-isolate until you know what you are dealing with. When you can’t self-isolate, wearing a mask will reduce the risk to your loved ones,” says Dr. Dumford.

Research shows that masks work in close quarters

If you’re not convinced that masks can make a difference, a recent scientific brief from the CDC shares a few real-world examples of how masks prevented the spread of the coronavirus in close quarters.

In a study of 124 Beijing households with more than one laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19, mask use by asymptomatic patients and family members helped reduce secondary transmission by 79%.

Another study took a look at the outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, a setting that has congregate living quarters and close working environments. When face coverings were used on-board, the risk of contracting COVID-19 was reduced by 70%.

If you or a loved one has COVID-19, self-isolate

In addition to wearing a mask, self-isolation is also key if you or a loved one has COVID-19. If you’re sick, stay away from other people in your home. Avoid common areas like the bathroom and kitchen if you can. Also, frequent disinfection is a must to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Another thing you can do is open a window to air out your home and promote circulation.

If you’re a people person, it might be tough to stay away from everyone. But Dr. Dumford says that self-isolation for ten days after your symptoms start is essential to stopping the spread of the coronavirus.

Who should wear a mask at all times?

The CDC recommends those 2 years of age and older wear a mask:

  • In public settings.
  • When you are around people who do not live in your household.
  • When caring for someone who is sick with COVID-19 (whether at home or in a non-healthcare setting).
  • If you are sick with COVID-19 or think you may have COVID-19. (Wear a mask when you need to be around other people or animals, even in your own home.)

Masks should not be worn by:

  • Children younger than 2 years old.
  • Anyone who has trouble breathing.
  • Anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.