With school expected to start soon, kids will be required to wear face masks all day. Many of us only wear them for 30-40 minutes at a time in a store, so we might not realize how hard it can be to wear a face covering for hours at a time.
As health care workers and grocery store clerks have already learned, long-term use of masks mean more than just your glasses fogging up. You can get skin irritation and sore ears. It might take a bit of trial and error to find the style that fits right and is the most comfortable.
Tampa Bay public school districts have announced they will be providing cloth face masks to students and staff, but pediatricians and educators suggest practicing now to get used to wearing them for long periods.
With this in mind, we asked a panel of volunteers from age 3 to 56 to test out three different masks that they each wore for at least four hours — or at least tried to.
Some inexpensive masks were surprisingly more comfortable than designer face coverings.
The trade-off for comfort can be that some options are safer than others. Disney World has banned the super comfortable “neck gaiters” as a face covering. The tube-style face scarves, and also home-made triangle-shaped bandanas, are banned because CDC recommendations are for “at least two layers of breathable material” that completely cover the nose and mouth to stop droplets. One study found gaiters to be worse than no mask at all.
Tampa Bay public schools have crafted face mask policies or are in the process of doing so. So far, Pasco and Pinellas counties both are considering a fairly broad interpretation of face coverings that includes scarfs, bandannas, fishing buffs and other items that will cover the wearer’s nose and mouth. Both also have crafted policies that ban coverings made of mesh or with holes of any kind.
And administrators said they will be reminding students that the school dress code applies to face masks just like it does for T-shirts, so no profane or offensive images will be allowed.
Mask guidelines continue to evolve as researchers learn more about the virus. The CDC guidelines on wearing a mask suggest that it cover your nose and mouth and fit snugly to the sides of your face.
Pediatric specialist Dr. Allison Messina, the chief of the division of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, said barriers of all kinds have been found to be effective, “especially if everyone is wearing a mask.”
There have been a number of social media posts that claim wearing a mask can be dangerous because they are depleting oxygen levels for the wearer. Those claims have been roundly debunked.
Messina said it’s more likely claustrophobia at play since a cloth mask will add some resistance to the breathing process, so it may feel like it requires more work to breathe. But it won’t materially change the makeup of air that comes through the mask, she said, or surgeons would be passing out every day.
Safety aside, there’s a new market for fashion face coverings that can cost $30 or more. Disposable brands go for as low as 50 cents each. We gave the panel of testers each a cheap disposable mask, a cloth mask in the $5-$10 range and some of the more fashionable ones made by Tampa Bay area artists.
Here are the results:
Victoria Messina, 3, Clearwater
Victoria has a small face, so finding a mask that fits can be a challenge. “The longest Victoria has been able to wear a mask continuously was for 40 minutes,” her mother, Theresa Messina, said. “Regardless of the mask, she starts fidgeting with it.”
Dr. Talbot’s printed disposable kid’s face mask, with a three-layered filter, easy bend nose clip and soft ear loops (10 for $10.99 at Winn-Dixie). The fit just wasn’t there. “It was loose even with twisting the ear loops. When she talked it fell below her nose immediately; the sides were not secure to the face.” But for the fashion part of it, she loved the shark pattern and thought it was fun. There were no problems hearing her speak, which has sometimes been an issue with masks, her mother said.
A little better, but inconsistent, was the Jojo Siwa double ply machine washable face mask — a set of three printed with unicorns, rainbows and lots of pink are $10 at Target. Out of the pack of three, only one fit Victoria like the CDC guidelines recommend. The other two were too loose. But she loved the material, which is silky smooth and comes in fun designs. It had a pocket for a filter and is made of very breathable material. “Overall, we would purchase these masks for Victoria even though some of them wouldn’t fit,” Messina said.
The winner was a handmade kid’s mask by Kosharek Art, $12 on Etsy. It is made with vintage fabrics and has a pocket for filters and elastic bands that go around the head. It fit Victoria snug on the face but not uncomfortable. “She seems to prefer that style,” her mother said of the head strap, noting Victoria could easily put this mask on all by herself.
Isadora Pendygraft, 8, Gulfport
Isadora has allergies, so some masks can feel a bit stuffy. Breathable material was the most important thing to her.
Dr. Talbot’s printed disposable kid’s face mask (10 for $10.99 at Winn-Dixie) were a little bit big and she had to tie the elastic ear bands together to make it fit better. But where this one really failed for Isadora was in fashion. “The pattern is completely inappropriate for most girls,” she wrote in her review, clearly not a fan of sharks.
The Cat and Jack washable mask ($4 for a set of two from Target) felt scratchy on her cheeks and slid down her nose if it wasn’t positioned right. “I took it off a few times because it was scratchy and I also took it off to eat. But other than that, it was pretty good.”
The Shore swimwear mask sold at Ashe Couture Boutique in St. Petersburg was her favorite. The double ply, adjustable mask made of swimsuit material is $14 at the Central Avenue clothing store. She loved the adjusters and though it felt a bit stuffy, “that could just be my allergies.” She rated it “one of the best masks I’ve ever tried on. I love the color, although it does slide down my nose.”
Madison Wagner, 10, Kenneth City
Madison wears glasses, so her biggest challenge has been finding masks that fit around her lenses correctly.
The Cat and Jack washable cotton mask (two for $4 at Target) had comfortable straps. “I liked the color and it didn’t fog up my glasses as much as the other ones.” But she found it didn’t form to her nose very well and slipped down. Also, “it was confusing which way it goes on.”
Dr. Talbot’s printed disposable kid’s face mask (10 for $10.99 at Winn-Dixie) felt too small for her face and for fashion “it looks too boyish with the sharks, and it also looks a little babyish.” But she found it wasn’t as itchy after four hours of wear as other disposable masks can be. On the down side, “The wire inside is not comfortable on my nose, and the elastic seems too stretched out. My glasses still fog up.”
The Safe Warrior disposable face mask (20 for $15.99 at Walgreens) was the most comfortable of the three she tested. “I would wear this one the most because I can breathe easier,” she said. It didn’t fog up her glasses, formed to her nose nicely. As for fashion, “It makes me look like a doctor.” She did find, however, that it felt itchy after wearing it for awhile outside in the heat. “It feels wet when you sweat in it.”
Luis Santana IV, 11, Brandon
This sixth grader towers over his father at 6 feet 2 inches tall, so most kids’ masks don’t fit his face very comfortably.
The 1771 Designs hand washable mask ($12 at 1771designs.com or at Shapiro’s Gallery in downtown St. Petersburg) was his least favorite. The biggest issue was its lack of a nose bridge — it kept exposing his nose. A tag inside scratched his face while he talked and he felt like he had to keep adjusting the mask. Being a Brandon resident, he didn’t understand the green pelican that is a popular image in St. Petersburg.
A Cat and Jack black and camouflage cotton mask ($4 for a set of two at Target) was the best looking, he said, but it was too small for his face. Because it was small on him, he couldn’t finish the four-hour test because it irritated the skin behind his ears.
The Safe Warrior disposable face mask, which has a flexible nose bridge (20 for $15.99 at Walgreens) was his favorite in terms of fit, comfort and perceived protection. The elastic band of the mask was comfortable and thin, which he said did not irritate as much as the others after wearing it awhile. It got the lowest rating in the fashion category, but, “I want to feel protected and don’t care about looks,” he said.
Ashleigh Wagner, 14, Kenneth City
Like her younger sister, the teenager also wears glasses and is looking for masks that don’t fog up her lenses. One trick she has learned is to twist the elastic straps to pull the mask on tighter and that sometimes reduces the fogging.
The Cat and Jack washable cotton kids’ mask (two for $4 at Target) seemed to fit her face the best but felt tight on her face and ears. It was blue with dinosaurs on it so it was a little boyish, but at least it wasn’t plain. She found it confusing to put on and it irritated her ears after a few hours, “especially if I get sweaty.”
She found the material in the Safe Warrior disposable face mask (20 for $15.99 at Walgreens) uncomfortable, “but the strings don’t tug and it fit around my ears nicely.” Out of the three she tested, she says she would wear this one the most because it’s lightweight and not tight. But it was a dud for fashion. “It looks like it came from a hospital. It’s not very stylish.”
The most fashionable mask was a handmade cotton pleated mask ($12 from Florida CraftArt in St. Petersburg.) It felt too big, so she would have gone with a smaller size, but “I like that it’s reversible and that you could have it made with fabrics that I chose.”
Boyzell Hosey, 56, St. Petersburg
The Tampa Bay Times deputy editor of photography is often called on to shoot photos in live news scenes and his goal is to blend in, not stand out, while documenting events. He also shoots pictures while walking around in the blazing heat, so breathability is vital for work.
“I was really excited to try the Dali mask with the notable artwork The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory,” Hosey said ($7.48 at the Dali Museum store in St. Petersburg) of the print better known to fans as The Melting Clock. “I was impressed by the workmanship description on the label: Cloth masks (92 percent nylon, 8 percent spandex) are treated with biocompatible, hydrophobic splash resistant finish – one size fits most, how could I go wrong? Well to put it bluntly this mask was more suitable for framing than for wearing! It was hard to breathe just sitting at my computer let alone moving around. The craftsmanship and fit left a lot to be desired, I constantly pulled at my mask trying to readjust it. At one point I became very aware of the mask’s presence as it inched up my cheeks to just below my eyes. The fit was not snug, and the ear loops looked like they were cut by a pair of scissors. Honestly, it felt like a worthy craft project from some left-over material. The filter pocket was appreciated, and I did slide a PM 2.5 filter inside, but it didn’t help.”
The Safe Warrior disposable face mask (20 for $15.99 at Walgreens) was the most comfortable of the three tested to wear for extended periods of time. “My breathing was easy and not labored as with other masks. The fit was snug and contoured to my face easily. Psychologically, and perhaps practically, I felt a boost of self-confidence with presenting a clean mask when out in public. As a photographer on the go quite a bit I didn’t get easily overwhelmed with heat with the Safe Warrior.”
The Goodfellow cloth mask ($4 for a set of two size large/XL at Target) wasn’t as comfortable as the Safe Warrior, “but this was certainly my favorite. I love its durability in that it’s washable and the material was lightweight and it was fairly easy to breathe. I even added a PM 2.5 filter in the built-in pocket and that gave me an added measure of safety and confidence. Also, the masks fit well like the disposable surgical type mask, but much more stylish with its minimalist look.”
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