In this age of COVID-19, even casual conversations deserve caution.

Dr. John McDonald, an internal medicine physician and medical director of Christus Good Shepherd Internal Medicine Residency Clinic, said a variety of masks can be worn when people are unable to stay 6-feet apart. The most important role of the mask is that it must cover the nose and mouth.

“Any kind of mask is OK,” McDonald said. “Certainly, the medical type is appropriate and bandanas are appropriate. Medical masks are very difficult to get right now so we prefer that people use cloth masks so the medical type masks can be for those on the front line and first responders to protect themselves.”

Any child younger than age 2 should not wear a mask because of the risk of asphyxiation, McDonald said, but any child 2 years or older can wear masks. People who are still searching for masks can go to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and prevention website at cdc.gov to learn about making a mask out of a bandana or how to sew a mask. The website also provides a T-shirt method that does not involve sewing.

Masks can be helpful in stores where it might be difficult to stay 6 feet away from other people. Not everyone respects the distance needed between people. McDonald said he recently found himself in an uncomfortable situation where an acquaintance was near him, talking without wearing a mask. Before Covid 19, McDonald said he would have welcomed the conversation, but now precautions are necessary.

“In today’s day and age things have just changed quite a bit,” he said.

Masks must be worn properly to help stop the spread of the disease. Wearing a mask below the nose is incorrect because respiratory droplets can be produced in the nose which can spread the disease.

“Also pulling the masks below the chin when they don’t need to wear it is not a safe practice,” McDonald said.

Care also must be used when taking the mask off. The CDC says not to touch the front of the mask, but to remove it by pulling it off with the straps at the back of the mask.

Also, use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. Gloves can be great when used appropriately, but McDonald said he often sees people wearing gloves with obvious soiling on them.

“If you are wearing the same gloves all day you are probably not doing yourself a favor,” he said. “Wearing the same gloves all day probably transfers a virus you have come into contact with during the day. Gloves are mainly useful in a health care environment when you are caring for someone who is sick. You then take them off and perform hand hygiene. I worry people are wearing them all day and that gives them a false sense of security.”

Dr. Venkatesh Donty, a pulmonary critical care physician who works in the Intensive Care Unit at Longview Regional Medical Center, said some people also still have misconceptions about the protection they are receiving from wearing a standard cloth mask that so many people are wearing now. He said only an N95 mask makes it possible for you to protect yourself and the people you are around in a close setting. (Health officials, however, have said N95 masks should be reserved for health care workers.) Cloth masks are worn to protect others from yourself if you are infected, Donty said.

“Masks can be a double edge,” Donty said. “If you are not wearing a mask and come in contact with someone who has covid you can be infected, and unless you handle the mask properly, you can infect yourself. The mask alone is not going to be enough unless you observe hand washing and avoid touching your eyes, mouth and face.”

Donty said if people remain 6 feet away from each other outside, such as in a public park, they do not have to wear a mask, but keeping that distance is important. He said the sunlight and the wind helps a person avoid being infected. However, it is unknown how other people will behave at the park and in other outdoor situations.

“The outdoors are safer than indoors but you can’t control everything that happens,” he said.