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USC experts unmask truths and trends about face coverings

Keck Medicine of USC

As communities settle into a new normal, it is clear that masks are the COVID-19 pandemic’s must-have accessory. Keck Medicine of USC experts share advice on how the public can properly wear masks in their daily routines – and cope with others in the public who may not. 

Bottom line: Face coverings are critical for stopping the dramatic surge of COVID-19 cases statewide

“In just the last few days, California has seen a steep rise in the number of positive COVID-19 cases, particularly among people ages 18-40. In response, local health officials have scaled back reopenings to enforce social distancing. However, any time people are in public spaces, their faces must be covered. Masking is a sign of mutual respect and those choosing not to wear a mask are putting people around them at risk, which ultimately contributes to the growing numbers of new cases.

"Universal masking needs to be the new norm. It will require a proactive effort on everyone’s part to modify our practices and make face masks a part of the culture so we can outsmart this virus.”

Neha Nanda, MD, is an infectious disease specialist who serves as the healthcare epidemiologist and medical director of infection prevention and antimicrobial stewardship for Keck Medicine of USC. 

A clean face covering is one line of defense against COVID-19

“The infectious particles that transmit SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 disease, are not laser-guided missiles. By creating obstacles that prevent transmission, we can limit the spread of the disease.

“The three easiest, cheapest and most effective obstacles to interrupt transmission are:

  • Increase ventilation — air currents blow away and evaporate the particles containing the virus.
  • Maintain safe distances from others — particles are not likely to travel beyond six feet.
  • Wear a face covering — this is an easy and effective way to prevent particles from leaving and entering the nose and mouth.

“In line with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reusable face masks should be washed after each use or added to the laundry to prevent the virus from staying on tabletops and other surfaces. We recommend that families use different patterns to prevent sharing used masks."

Edward Jones-Lopez, MD, MS, is an infectious disease specialist with Keck Medicine of USC.

Cover your face while exercising — but be vigilant about your heart health

“Face coverings can dramatically reduce the risk of transmission in public spaces, so it is essential to wear them even while doing physical activity, particularly if you are exercising indoors with others around you. Face coverings should allow you to stay safe and still maintain a healthy flow of oxygen, so if you feel lightheaded or too short of breath, you should decrease your exercise intensity."

Vivian Mo, MD, is a cardiologist with Keck Medicine of USC and chief medical officer of USC Care Medical Group. 

Keep your face and mask clean to avoid mask-related acne, or “maskne”  

“Wearing a face covering for extended periods of time can trap bacteria, dirt, oil and moisture in the skin, causing “maskne,” skin irritation and exacerbation of underlying skin conditions. It is important to wear breathable fabrics such as cotton and to wash your face before and after wearing the mask with a gentle cleanser followed by a moisturizing cream, which can help calm irritation and restore the skin's natural barrier. We recommend avoiding makeup, toners and harsh scrubs. If your skin's condition is worsening or not improving, set up an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist for further evaluation and treatment.”

Nada Elbuluk, MD is a dermatologist with Keck Medicine of USC and the director of the USC Skin of Color and Pigmentary Disorders Program

A polarized political environment is preventing widespread adoption of face coverings

"In general, Americans are mindful of public health recommendations, but today we find ourselves in an unfortunate situation. Political polarization is colliding with a crisis of expertise and a long strain of suspicion of government intervention. It’s all contributing to the difficulty of getting some people to engage in a simple public health measure of mask-wearing in public." 

Andrew Lakoff, PhD is a professor of sociology at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. He was trained as an anthropologist of science and medicine. His areas of interest include globalization processes, the history of the human sciences, contemporary social theory, and risk society.  

To keep your cool in the mask debate, focus on what you can control

“Masks are the new badge of honor. Wearing your mask in public is a statement that can help put people around you at ease. It says that you care about the health and welfare of your neighbors. Not wearing a mask in public says just the opposite and may cause others around you to feel anxious.

“If you are anxious about being outside around other people who do not wear masks, you can cross the street or move to the side. In short, focus your effort where it belongs. We have power over our own choices and behavior, but we cannot control the rest of the world.” 

Steven Siegel, MD, PhD, is a psychiatrist with Keck Medicine of USC and chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. He recently helped create the Care for the Caregiver program, which offers mental health support along with other essential services for Keck Medicine health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.


For more information about Keck Medicine of USC, visit

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