Governor Phil Murphy has issued an executive order requiring face coverings be worn outdoors when social distancing is not possible.

The edict has certainly triggered strong opinions on both sides of the ongoing debate over the effectiveness of wearing a mask, and whether it does anything to prevent the spread. Others see the order as an infringement on personal liberties.

Regardless of where you fall in the debate, it is now required by law, and if you want to walk the boardwalk, go inside a business, ride a bus or train, visit a museum or take part in almost any other activity where people are present, you will need a mask.

So, what kind of mask should you wear? This is a much-debated topic. Dr. Ronald Nahass is a senior physician, infectious disease specialist and the epidemiologist at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset.

The bottom line, Nahass said, is “anything is better than nothing” when it comes to covering your face. However, he said, “The easiest and most effective mask for most people is the simple surgical mask,” or what is commonly called the “ear-loop” mask. Nahass said they are effective and have the added benefit of being reusable.

As long as the mask is not ripped or torn, he said, you can keep it in your car and reuse it for up to a week. He did caution that you make sure you are getting your mask (any mask) from a reliable supplier.

While many have suggested the N95 masks medical professionals use, Nahass warns they are not effective if they are not fitted properly. Cloth masks and the new neoprene custom masks with logos and other designs are also fine, if they fit properly and cover the mouth and nose. The only mask he discouraged was the bandanna-type cloth masks because they “really don’t work.”

As for why we wear a mask, Nahass said they at what he calls “source control.” Wearing a mask, he said, “is a personal responsibility that we all have.”

As a member of the medical community, Nahass admitted the messaging and information overload has been extraordinary. Where social distancing is possible and you can maintain six feet from others, you don’t need a mask, "The virus is not going to find you," he said.

However, in close quarters, it is essential, especially because “the majority of transmission from COVID comes form someone with no symptoms."

Nahass described the function and need to wear a mask this way: “You cannot know if you have the virus. If you are in close quarters, you have a risk. The mask blocks the transmission of the virus by acting as a barrier. That’s the most important action of the mas — as a barrier between the person who does not have symptoms, and has the virus, and the person who is within a six-foot circle and is susceptible to the virus."

"The second action of the mask is to act as a barrier for yourself," he said. "If you watch anyone talking to you, you see them touch their mouth. They touch their eyes. It’s almost unavoidable simply because it’s a natural action. When you have a mask on, it prevents that from happening.”

Five things to know about choosing and wearing a mask

Which mask is best?

Anything is better than nothing, but Nahass said “the easiest and most effective mask for most people is the simple surgical mask,” or what is commonly called the “ear-loop” mask. N95 masks are effective, but only when properly fitted. Custom masks with designs and logos are also fine, as long as they are properly made and fitted.

Be careful where you buy them. Nahass said masks have to have the proper ply and thickness, so make sure you are getting yours from a reputable source. There are a lot of bootleg masks being sold that will not provide the proper protection.

Can I reuse my mask?

Yes. Even the surgical ear-loop masks can be worn for about a week, as long as they are not ripped, torn, or wet. Don’t put those masks (or the N95) in the wash. Cloth masks can be washed and worn again after they are completely dry.

What type of masks should I avoid?

Nahass says “anything is better than nothing,” but urged you to stay away from bandanna-type masks because they “really don’t work.”

I really don’t want to wear a mask

Wearing a mask, Nahass said. “is a personal responsibility that we all have.” Where social distancing is possible and you can maintain six feet apart, you don’t need a mask, he said, “the virus is not going to find you.” However, in close quarters, it is essential, especially because “the majority of transmission from COVID comes from someone with no symptoms.

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