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Face mask favorites and failures from Times readers and staff

Readers joined the challenge to wear a face mask for at least four hours, and 'Times' journalists offer their insight from working while masked.
11 year old Luis Santana IV of Brandon tested out a variety of face masks.
11 year old Luis Santana IV of Brandon tested out a variety of face masks. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Aug. 13, 2020

When we assembled a panel of mask testers of various ages, we also asked readers to join in the challenge and let us know what they learned after wearing a face mask for at least four hours.

And Tampa Bay Times photographers and reporters who have worked in the heat while trying to do interviews in face masks offer their takes on the best and worst face masks they’ve used while working in the field all spring and summer.

Here are their thoughts on masks they love and ones they don’t.

Readers mask up

We also asked readers to join us in the experiment and try out their own masks for four hours and some had their kids see what it felt like as well.

Hurt my ears: I wore my “favorite” face mask for four hours last Monday. By the end of the four hours, my ears hurt and I couldn’t wait to get the darn thing off. I do not believe anyone can wear a regular “behind the ears” face mask for eight solid hours without being miserable. I have since learned that one can buy a small plastic deice that attaches to the “ear” elastics so that it goes all the way around the head. That sounds much better. — Susan W. Long

Breanna Lopez will be entering sixth grade at St. John’s Episcopal School in South Tampa.  She wore this mask for multiple days to practice  her return to school.
Breanna Lopez will be entering sixth grade at St. John’s Episcopal School in South Tampa. She wore this mask for multiple days to practice her return to school. [ Sharon Lopez ]

Practice for school: Last week, my daughter Breanna wore a two-layer cotton mask I purchased from the Gap Kids for eight hours. She was at home watching TV, listening to music and doing some schoolwork. She even did pushups and sit ups while wearing the mask. She only removed it to eat or drink. Breanna was practicing mask-wearing for school. She had no problem with glasses fogging as the mask has a nose piece so it fit tightly and she wears her glasses on top of the mask. She loves the patterns and forgot she was wearing it. She is proof positive that kids can wear a mask properly throughout a school day. — Sharon Lopez

MaskUp Saint Pete: What a fantastic organization! I ordered a special Duke University fabric for our masks and they delivered well crafted and comfortable masks. I am so happy to support an organization that donates masks to those in need and is run by civic-minded and kind kids. $10 at — Anne Dowling

Most comfortable: I wear a mask from reNEU EARTH at work for 8+ hours a day. I’ve tried several brands and these are the safest and most comfortable. $10, $12 for a pack of two kids masks at — Laurie Fidler

Staff favorites

Since early March the Tampa Bay Times newsroom has been empty as employees were sent home to work remotely. But that didn’t mean they stayed home. Photographers and reporters are out in the field every day, covering everything from spring break to the governor’s press conferences to Black Lives Matter protests, all while wearing masks. Here’s what they learned in long-time mask wearing.

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Monique Welch, engagement producer: I have covered a few protests and have worn face masks for four-plus hours in the heat. It’s not fun. Cloth masks are definitely more comfortable then the N95 ones in scorching heat, but I feel more protected with my N95. Honestly, I hate the basic store-bought ones. My cloth masks that I have are handmade. They’re so much better.

Martha Asencio-Rhine, photographer: They’re all terribly hot, especially the N95 and the KN95. But I prefer a style that is snug all the way around, no gaps, and I like the straps that go around the head and neck and not the kind that loop around the ears. They hurt after a while.

Margo Snipe, politics intern: During protest coverage, I wore a mask for hours at a time (on July 4, I was out with protesters for 11 hours). I always wore an N95 mask. They are definitely uncomfortable and hot under the Florida sun — sometimes I’d notice marks on my face after taking the mask off due to extended use. Occasionally I’d pause (when extremely socially distanced) and take off my mask just to get some air because the mask felt stuffy.

Kathryn Varn, reporter: The cotton face mask I got at was great for covering protests. It’s super breathable and really hugs my face nicely.

Ivy Cebello, photo intern: I’ve gotten so used to masks by now that they don’t bother me too much anymore. I don’t like not being able to hear people very well or be heard very well, and I miss seeing people’s facial expressions. I prefer cloth masks and I keep plenty in my car to change them out often. I have a two-layer mask with a filter that gives me a sense of more protection, but it is very hot when I use it to work outdoors.

Kathy Saunders, Bay magazine editor: When California started requiring masks before many other states, my 21-year-old daughter, who goes to college in Los Angeles, started ordering masks. We have four that we like the best. We splurged on three Lilly Pulitzer masks for $48 at We like the colors and the comfort they provide. Our favorite masks are made of swimsuit fabric from a website called Dippin’ Daisy’s Swimwear at We ordered two for $10 each. They are great in Florida where it’s hot and sticky and are extra comfortable on your face.

Related: A Times journalist details his bout with the coronavirus

Doug Clifford, photographer: There’s a dimension to people who have had the virus already and have a personal perception of immunity, like myself. So I wear a mask when I’m on assignment for the Times because that’s Times policy and it’s the right thing to do because people need to feel comfortable around me. I prefer a KN95 mask (without the exhaust port), mainly because the mask has a vertical pocket which allows your nose and mouth to have some airspace. And the KN95 is rated to capture 95 percent of particles. My main concern with a mask is efficacy. I mean, I’m seeing TikTok videos of people converting their socks into face masks, I’m seeing people wearing simple bandanas. There’s virtually no discussion among the healthcare officials in the greater media sphere like the networks and cable shows discussing the efficacy of different materials.

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