Temperatures in the United States have been soaring from coast to coast, and with summer coming into full swing, it's only going to get hotter. Even though social distancing measures in most places have been eased, guidelines on wearing masks while out in public to curb the spread of COVID-19 have remained the same.
Now that summer's here, as of June 20, and the weather could be even hotter than normal in some places -- let's face it: Wearing a mask will be even more uncomfortable than usual.
One notion to dispense with is that wearing a mask presents other dangers. Even though a mask may be uncomfortable, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said wearing one properly will not put someone at risk of carbon dioxide intoxication or oxygen deficiency.
Next, fabric matters.
Cotton is a more breathable option than other fabrics, but it can also absorb sweat, which could cause issues on hot and humid days. To work around this issue, it's a good idea to pack multiple masks for long outings -- especially on hot days. Bringing extra masks in a plastic baggy will keep them clean and dry, so you will have a fresh mask free from sweat when it's time to switch.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends tightly woven cotton for face masks to be made of such as quilting fabric or cotton sheets. However, a T-shirt made of cotton can also be used to make a protective face covering. Polyester and other synthetic fabric blends are harder to breathe through, which can cause the inside of the masks to heat up quickly, which will be uncomfortable when out in the hot sun.
Bamboo is 40% more absorbent than even the best organic cotton fabrics, according to The Miami Herald. Fabric made from bamboo can absorb up to three times its weight in liquid, meaning it will be ideal for situations where someone is sweating. Bamboo is also celebrated for its antibacterial properties, so it's less likely to develop an odor as well.
To avoid overheating in the hot sun, lighter colored masks are also a better fit. This is because ultraviolet rays from the sun are easily absorbed by materials made using darker colors, which will cause them to heat up faster.
And what you do after wearing a mask is almost as important as wearing one.
According to CDC guidelines, cloth masks should be washed daily, and allowed time to dry fully before reuse. The CDC recommends that people thoroughly wash their hands or use sanitizer before putting on a mask and making sure face coverings fit snug to the face while still not restricting one's ability to breathe.
The best way to prevent germs from lingering between uses is to wash the mask after each use in hot water and dry on a high heat. If needed, masks can also be ironed as an additional way to kill germs.
And the hot, humid summer weather provides an atmosphere in which some types of germs can thrive. "That's usually a good combination [heat and humidity] for microbes to survive, so more frequent washing of masks or face coverings would likely need to be required," Knittle said.
No matter the mask, meteorologists say it is best to also avoid extended periods of time spent outside in order to avoid overheating. For those who must spend great amounts of time outdoors, these experts suggest taking frequent breaks in the shade. Spending time outdoors during the morning and evening hours and avoiding the hottest hours of the midday is recommended whenever possible. Staying hydrated and wearing light, loose-fitting clothing is critical to avoiding potential risks of heat exhaustion, or even heatstroke in extreme cases.
Reporting by Bill Wadell
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