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Though the rate of COVID-19 cases in Iowa and the United States has become a roller coaster — moving up, then down, then up again over the past four months — the messaging from public health officials has remained the same: Wash your hands, be sure to socially distance and stay home as much as possible. And if you must be in public, wear a face mask.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as state and local public health officials, continue to emphasize the importance of wearing face shields, face masks or other coverings over the mouth and nose. This practice can help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus to others when worn in public settings, they say.
The coronavirus mainly spreads through droplets that are emitted when people talk, laugh, sing, cough and sneeze. Masks lower the likelihood of those droplets reaching other people. Even if you don't have symptoms, you could be carrying the virus and could spread it.
In Iowa, face masks or other facial coverings aren't required by state officials. But recently, several businesses — including Walmart, Target and other major chains — have taken the extra step of requiring customers to wear a mask or shield.
Public health officials say its important for people to wear face masks properly, otherwise their purpose to prevent the spread of the virus is negated.
How do you properly wear a face mask?
According to the CDC, a face mask should:
Fit snugly but comfortably against the face
Cover the mouth and nose
Have multiple layers of fabric, but allow you to breathe easily
The CDC also says:
Wash hands before putting on a face covering
Do not touch the face covering while wearing it
Do not put the face covering around your neck or on the forehead, but keep the mask snugly over the mouth and nose.
» COVID-19 IN IOWA: Read the latest news, plus maps and charts showing cases in the state
What other steps can you take?
In addition to wearing face coverings, public health officials say it's important to:
Continue maintaining 6 feet of distance from others
Cover coughs and sneezes
Avoid contact with others when you are sick
Wash your hands often
Use hand sanitizer frequently
» GOT QUESTIONS: What questions do you have about COVID-19? We'll help answer them
Does wearing a mask pose any health risks?
No, not for most people. Babies and toddlers should not wear masks because they could suffocate. The same goes for anyone who has trouble removing a mask without help.
Others can wear masks without risking their health, according to experts, despite false rumors to the contrary.
When it's humid outside, it could feel like it's harder to breathe if you're not used to wearing a mask, said Benjamin Neuman, a professor of biology at Texas A&M University-Texarkana. But he said masks don't meaningfully decrease oxygen in the body.
'The body is quite good at adjusting to keep oxygen levels where they need to be," he said.
There's also no evidence that the use of masks causes fungal or bacterial infections, according to Davidson Hamer, an infectious disease expert at Boston University. Disposable face masks are meant to be used once, then thrown in the garbage. With cloth masks, it's a good idea to wash them regularly.
Wearing a mask may be uncomfortable, but health officials say you should resist any urge to touch your face. That could bring germs from your hands into your nose, mouth or eyes.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.