How to choose the best mask for back-to-school

Forget the trendy backpacks or the latest sneakers. 2020’s back-to-school must-have is the mask.

Dr. Michael Teng of the University of South Florida says kids must learn to move about their school day with their faces covered.

“I think the key is to get something that is comfortable,” Dr. Teng explained. “If it’s something that’s itchy and uncomfortable, it’s not worthwhile. And it needs to be something you don’t have to touch. You don’t want to be touching to adjust it.”

For parents looking for the perfect fit for their kids, you don’t have to go looking for N-95 masks.

“Instead, disposable surgical masks are quite good at blocking transmission, in and out,” Teng said. “If you’re looking for a homemade mask, what you’re looking for is a two-ply mask, or three-ply if you have it.”

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Teng says just remember to wash the reusable ones every day. But when it comes to bandanas and neck gaiters or buffs, those just won’t cut it.

A recent study by Duke University found that neck gaiters made of thin, stretchy material did not block droplets much at all.

“If you use one of those neck gaiters, you have a higher chance of transmitting because something about the material, when it’s pressed up against your face, it makes smaller droplets that can travel farther. It’s counterproductive,” Teng warned.

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The same goes for the masks with plastic valves or vents.

“No valves,” he said. “Those are counterproductive, as well.”

So what will it take to get kids on board? Teng says like anything else, it’ll take practice.

“For our daughter, we’ve been having her wear a mask whenever we go out,” he said. "We try to go out a little bit every day and have some time with it.”

If you’re out of time to buy one, it’s not that big of a deal. Many school districts, like Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, will be providing a number of reusable cloth masks for students on the first day. If they forget them the next day, staff has disposable masks on hand.