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by Joyia Emard
An antique refrigerator with cooling coil.

This antique refrigerator includes a locking latch.

Decades of change to save children

“Ready or not, here I come!”

When kids heard that famous hide-and-seek phrase in the early and mid-20th century, several turned to a unique place to hide: the refrigerator.

An innocent-looking refrigerator—whether new and running in the kitchen or abandoned and cast off in the yard—was the perfect place wait out the seeker … until the door latch locked and turned the insulated, soundproof, airtight everyday appliance into a death trap. But thanks to decades of changes, today’s children and families have less to fear from this everyday appliance.


Refrigerators in the early decades of the 20th century operated and looked much as they do now, with one key difference: While more modern appliances use strong magnets to keep doors shut, air chilled, and food fresh, refrigerators of the past relied on a locking latch handle. Used dozens of times a day, the self-locking handle didn’t rate a second thought—that is, until tragedy struck.

Each year, several children would become entrapped in refrigerators; dozens died annually when they were discovered too late, suffocating in as quickly as 10 minutes. In just the 18 months between January 1954 and June 1956, out of 54 children known to have become entrapped, 34 died.


Before this time period, California already was moving to address the concern of refrigerator entrapment. In 1951, the state made it a misdemeanor to abandon or dump a refrigerator or similar appliance without first removing the door, hinges, or locking-latch mechanism.

However, while this state law addressed some of the refrigerator danger, it didn’t get to the ultimate source of the problem: the industry’s use of the locking latch itself.

The 1956 Congressional Record included statistics on refrigerator entrapment deaths.

The 1956 Congressional Record included statistics on refrigerator entrapment deaths.

With concerns, entrapments, and deaths continuing, the U.S. Congress passed the Refrigerator Safety Act in 1956. The legislation required companies to ensure all new refrigerators manufactured after 1958 to have mechanisms to allow the appliances to be easily opened from the inside. Companies that did not comply would be held liable and stiffly fined for infractions resulting in harm or death.

The act marked a turning point in consumer safety and started the trend toward change, but there was still much to do to make sure kids were protected.


While new mandated door mechanisms made a big difference, the ultimate safety results would not be seen for years—or even decades.

With a refrigerator’s life span running about 13 years, families would go for long periods of time without replacing their old standby with a new, safer alternative. Why pay hundreds for a brand-new refrigerator when your current one was still working fine? Even when the dangerous refrigerators were finally replaced in homes, the old ones would live on either as household back-ups or dumped in yards or junk heaps.

An abandoned warehouse features an old, dangerous refrigerator.

A dangerous old refrigerator offers a tempting hiding place.

With unsafe refrigerators still in wide use in households as well as found around neighborhoods, and children still being harmed by those still in existence (84 deaths in 1980 alone), broadcast public service announcements and written advertisements in the decades following California and federal legislative changes helped keep kids and families aware.

The safety issue was still so concerning in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s that, when the first-draft script for the blockbuster movie Back to the Future called for a time-traveling, nuclear-safe, old-fashioned refrigerator, the leading writers changed the time machine to a DeLorean to prevent young audience members from being inspired to climb in.

Thanks to safer technology, legislative changes, and public awareness, the once-looming specter of the dangerous refrigerator has largely retreated from the scene. Yet even in recent years, children in the United States and elsewhere have been trapped by old refrigerators with locking mechanisms: As recently as 2019, two young brothers in Kyrgyzstan died while playing hide and seek in an old-style refrigerator.


The Department of Consumer Affairs’ Bureau of Household Goods and Services has a long and dedicated history of helping make California homes and products safer, and their licensees are happy to help you with appliance safety and repair plus many other vital services. For more information, visit their website at bhgs.dca.ca.gov.

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There was a time when people viewed pharmacists merely as a group of white coats who simply filled prescriptions from corner drug stores.

Not anymore.

As the healthcare industry has evolved, so too have the roles, and need for pharmacists.

Pharmacists work in various settings, from nursing homes, colleges, and managed care facilities, to federal and state government agencies. Since manufacturing of prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs has dramatically increased over the years, today’s pharmacists are more vital than ever. Pharmacists serve as a conduit between doctors and their patients. They provide important counsel and guidance regarding patient’s medications and ensure the prescriptions they fill for them are accurate and pose no harmful side effects.

The Board of Pharmacy’s commitment to the safety, health and welfare of California consumers is unwavering and is reflected through the Board’s logo, which showcases two profiles silhouetted face-to-face, forming the sides of a mortar and pestle. The Board’s slogan, “Be Aware And Take Care: Talk To Your Pharmacist!” is the other part of the logo and represents the Board’s dedication to the pharmacist’s duty to provide consultation to patients about their medication.

So, the next time you have prescriptions to fill and/or questions about them or any other medications, take the opportunity to talk with your local pharmacist. They are a valuable resource and are available to assist and help you understand how to effectively use your medication.

You can check to see if your pharmacist and doctor is licensed and in good standing through the Department of Consumer Affairs website at https://search.dca.ca.gov.

For more valuable information from the Board of Pharmacy, visit their website at  https://www.pharmacy.ca.gov/consumers/information.shtml

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California’s summer heat is scorching most of the state just as more and more people head outdoors to get relief from pandemic-induced cabin fever.

And for those exercising outside even moderately in 90-degree-plus temperatures, staying hydrated is critical—something many people often don’t do.

Dehydration can lead to serious complications, including heat injury that can range in severity from cramps to heat exhaustion, or heatstroke, that can be fatal. in some cases. Dehydration is particularly dangerous for children and older adults.

Water makes up roughly 75% of our bodies and is used for countless vital functions, yet the majority of Americans are believed to be dehydrated to some degree almost daily—whether there is exertion outdoors or not.

You lose water when you sweat. To avoid dehydration, drink lots of fluids and eat foods high in water content like fruits and vegetables. If you have strenuous exercise planned, hydrating the day before is ideal, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Thirst isn’t always a reliable early indicator of a body’s need for water. Often, by the time people feel thirsty—especially older adults—they are already dehydrated. Symptoms to watch for include:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Less-frequent urination
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion or disorientation

If you believe you have become dehydrated while exercising outdoors, it’s important to stop and lower your body temperature by finding shade, drinking cold fluids, and using ice on your head and neck.

Mild to moderate dehydration can usually be reversed with lots of fluids (not caffeine or alcohol), but in severe cases, people should consult a doctor. Department of Consumer Affairs entities license hundreds of thousands of health care professionals throughout California. To check the license status of a health care professional, visit https://search.dca.ca.gov.




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A close-up of the University of Bristol's gum-chewing robot taken by Dr. Kazem Alemzadeh.

A close-up of University of Bristol’s gum-chewing robot taken by Dr. Kazem Alemzadeh; image courtesy of University of Bristol press release.


Researchers establish medication standards using specialized robot

With the average American chewing 300 sticks of gum each year, researchers are looking at ways to use that familiar activity to ensure people get needed medications in a timely and dose-correct fashion.

The idea of medicated or pharmaceutical chewing gum is not new: For instance, Nicorette—a brand-name nicotine-replacement therapy for people working to quit smoking—was developed in gum form in the late 1970s.

But then as now, there’s no standard for testing drug release and efficacy via chewing gum. So to help set these medical and manufacturing guidelines, University of Bristol (England) biomedical engineers have created a gum-chewing robot to simulate exactly how medicated gum can work.

As recently outlined in IEEE Transactions in Biomedical Engineering, the researchers’ robot—featuring humanoid jaws and simulated saliva—chews gum containing xylitol, an artificial sweetener frequently found in sugar-free gums. Researchers measured the amount of xylitol released from the robot’s gum into the simulated saliva at 5-, 10-, 15-, and 20-minute intervals of continuous chewing.

The biomedical engineers found that the greatest release of the sweetener was within the first 5 minutes of the robot’s chewing—findings consistent with their human study participants—giving drug companies a mechanical way to safely research, implement, and release medications in gum form.

“Our research has shown the chewing robot gives pharmaceutical companies the opportunity to investigate medicated chewing gum, with reduced patient exposure and lower costs using this new method,” said University of Bristol Department of Mechanical Engineering’s Dr. Kazem Alemzadeh, the study’s lead author.

“The most convenient drug administration route to patients is through oral delivery methods,” added study co-author Professor Nicola West. “This research, utilizing a novel humanoid artificial oral environment, has the potential to revolutionize investigation into oral drug release and delivery.”

While it may take a while for more pharmaceutical gums to be developed and made available, licensees of the Department of Consumer Affairs’ California State Board of Pharmacy are ready to help you today with your medication questions and needs. For more information about these professionals and their services, visit www.pharmacy.ca.gov; to check that your pharmacist is licensed, visit search.dca.ca.gov.

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For a few months, doors were closed, roads were empty, and no one would dare to knock on a neighbor’s door for a cup of sugar. Then, as COVID-19 cases started to dwindle, businesses reopened, and people loosened up – for a little while. Before we knew it, things went right back to where they started as a surge in cases resulted in a new wave of shutdowns.

This rollercoaster is starting to give people lockdown fatigue, or “coronacoaster” as some call it. The term has already made it into an urban dictionary. I can tell you: it’s definitely making me dizzy!

I’ve been more than ready to rip off the mask and run free. The thought of not being able to do the things I love for my own mental health, has me feeling quite anxious. No sports games, no dining out with my besties, and trying to figure out how to deal with a job loss in my family have caused a great deal of stress.

The feeling of having less control over what was once somewhat normal can be disconcerting. However, there are ways you can navigate through the coronacoaster ride without a major headspin.

“This pandemic definitely took away our familiar ways of managing stress and worries,” says Northern California licensed clinical social worker, Christina Wong. “When we refocus from the unknown of the future to the known presence, it allows us to stay centered, and be present and focus on the ‘now’.”

So, is now the time to hit the reset button? How many times will we have to push it? Change is hard. Thinking outside the box and realizing that the situation is fluid and will be for a while is a good start that Wong says can help ease some of the anxiety people may feel.

“When people don’t have the buy-in of the reasoning of changes and orders, this is how resentment and resistance develop. Practicing open-mindedness and understanding the ‘why’ could help. Avoid the black and white, or right and wrong mentality,” Wong said.

Trying to face this up-and-down reality? Here are some things to try to keep your head on straight during this bumpy ride.

Hate wearing a mask?

Try to remember why you’re wearing the mask – to protect those we care about. “Being a masketeer is not what we’re accustomed to. By focusing on the ‘why’ would help to reframe the negative notion of wearing a mask,” said Wong. If you are having a hard time breathing, try to leave the environment that requires a mask and take a breather.

Feeling stuck?

If you’re missing your friends or getting tired of being stuck at home all the time, think outside of the box. Try to find creative ways to connect with your friends like a socially distant picnic or a virtual party online. Hop in the car and take a drive. Enjoy nature. Wong says even a short walk around the block can improve physical health and maintain emotional balance.

Angry over a school closure, missed concerts, or sports without crowds?

Feeling upset, angry, or stressed are valid feelings as families worry over a major interruptions in daily routine and childhood education. Sometimes venting to a friend or family member can help let off some steam. Accepting your emotions is the first step to cope, according to Wong. If you miss going to a concert, put on a set of headphones and listen to your favorite music while imagining yourself enjoying it live in person. If you miss sports, try to watch events scheduled on television, or relive a moment in sports history by finding a rerun of a game or match.

The bottom line is that this is the reality we will be living for quite some time. Staying in the present instead of worrying about the future is one of the best ways to stay on track as we ride the coronacoaster wave.

If you decide to seek help from a mental health professional, be sure to check that their license is valid and in good standing with the California Department of Consumer Affairs’ Board of Behavioral Sciences at https://www.bbs.ca.gov/ or the California Board of Psychology at https://www.psychology.ca.gov/.








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In March, Nintendo released Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the fifth title in the popular video game series. In the game, you, the buyer of a vacation getaway package, have just set up your tent on a natural resource-rich deserted island. With you on your adventure are a few cute anthropomorphic animal neighbors, and Tom Nook, a raccoon who holds your mortgage and runs a general store.

The author’s digital avatar (left) takes a break from catching bugs to watch his island neighbors pump iron.

Before long, you’ve completed enough small tasks – catching fish and bugs, collecting wood, building furniture and clothes – to move from your tent into a home with a new, larger mortgage, and more tasks to complete, and the cycle continues. You can expand your home a half dozen more times, each time with a new mortgage. Your island grows, too: soon you’ll invite additional residents, unlock new characters and features, build bridges over your island’s rivers and explore previously unknown territory, but there’s no roadmap to get there, and gameplay progresses at your preferred speed.

With a release date that coincided with COVID-19 related stay-at-home orders, the game has been a smash hit as millions of gamers have looked for an escape from the stress of real life in a time of pandemic.

A big reason behind the success of Animal Crossing is the sense of control offered during a time when the world seems out of control. “A fantasy of a place where things are clean and orderly, where we have control of our surroundings, where things are somewhat predictable and logical, sounds pretty good right now,” Christine Celio, Ph.D., a California-licensed psychologist recently told Bustle. “Reading the news increases that sense of insecurity, whereas playing a game like this creates a sense of calm and predictable outcomes.”

The recreation of your real-life community is also an important function in the game. One feature of the game allows you to host real-life visitors from other islands, or visit those islands yourself for some social time that doesn’t break physical distancing guidelines. This allows you to invite friends to your island for fishing trips or to swap in-game items like furniture or clothing.

The feature has quickly been seized upon by people who have been deprived of community-based events large and small. 2020 grads who didn’t have the opportunity to walk the stage at graduation have taken to using the game to host digital graduation ceremonies. In May, New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the only known Animal Crossing player in Congress, attended a graduation ceremony and even gave a short commencement address. Others have held family reunions, crafted obstacle courses, even convened wedding ceremonies.

If you find yourself diving into this distraction from the real world, remember to do so in moderation. Too much of a good thing can be detrimental to your health. If any video game is disrupting your life, seek the services of a mental health professional. In California, these professionals are licensed by the Board of Behavioral Sciences and the Board of Psychology.

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A delivery driver wearing gloves and a mask offers a card reader for payment.Cashless options, fiscal tips for consumers in a COVID-19 world

Admit it: Even before the current pandemic, you sometimes couldn’t help but wonder where that ratty dollar bill on your counter, in your wallet, or in the cash register had been. Passing through the hands of about 100 people a year, those greenbacks can get ragged, bedraggled, and just plain icky.

While the World Health Organization (WHO) hasn’t linked the use of cash—bills and coins—to the spread of the novel coronavirus, the international agency has noted that washing your hands after handling money, especially if you’re touching or eating food, is just good hygiene. But what’s even better hygiene in this day and age? Not using cash at all.

As more and more businesses go cashless in the time of coronavirus, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)—the U.S. government agency charged with maintaining stability and public confidence in the nation’s financial system—offers tips on how consumers can participate in cash-free transactions while maintaining fiscal safety and security.


You don’t have to have a credit card or even a bank account to participate in an increasingly cashless economy: The FDIC notes several prepaid card options are available, including:

  • Reloadable prepaid cards—These cards allow you to add money later onto the card after your initial purchase. Some cards start out as non-reloadable but can be reloaded once you complete the issuer’s registration process.
  • Payroll cards—Some employers are turning to using reloadable payroll cards instead of paychecks, which require cutting and depositing paperwork and processing. Ask your employer if payroll cards are offered at your workplace.
  • Government benefit cards—Several government agencies, such as those providing unemployment insurance or food-assistance programs, upload benefits to EBT (electronic benefits transfer) cards, which then can be used for general or more specific purchases.
  • College cards—Several colleges and universities offer reloadable cards that can be used on campus or at nearby stores and locations recognized on the network. Check with your school for availability.
  • Gift cards—Gift cards can have a network logo that allows you to either use cards widely or only at certain retailers.


If you have a bank account, the FDIC reminds you that you have the ability to perform transactions from your computer, smartphone, or mobile device. If you aren’t currently using these services, ask your bank if any of these options are available and how to use them:

  • Money transfer services—Payment services and apps let you send money without having to write a check, swipe a card, find a stamp, or handle cash.
  • Online bill pay or ebill services—Sign up on your bank’s website to receive and pay bills electronically.
  • Contactless payments—Often called “tap-and-go,” this option uses radio frequency identification (RFID) chip technology from your debit, credit, or smartcard to allow you to tap your card near a point-of-sale terminal to make a touchless transaction.


But don’t get dazzled by all the high-tech glamour. The FDIC says you still need to keep track of your money and use it wisely, just as you would if you were counting dollars in your purse or recording a transaction on a check register:

  • Pay attention to purchases—Be sure to monitor your credit card bills and bank statements, as well as any app or online transactions for unauthorized purchases or withdrawals. Immediately contact your bank or the card provider if you see anything suspicious.
  • Consider signing up for alert services—Many card issuers, banks, and mobile app providers offer services that notify you about certain account activities, such as recent logins from unrecognized devices.
  • Protect yourself from scams—Scammers often create websites or email notifications that look very similar to those of popular, respected retailers. Be sure to only deal with reputable companies you are familiar with.

For additional fiscal assistance, licensees of the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Professional Fiduciaries Bureau (www.fiduciary.ca.gov) provide a wide variety of financial management services, and licensees of DCA’s California Board of Accountancy (www.dca.ca.gov/cba) are here to help you with all of your accounting needs. To check a fiduciary or accountant’s license, visit search.dca.ca.gov.

Related Reading: Need Some Help? Hire a Professional Fiduciary and Count on Certified Public Accountants

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A multigenerational family at home.Making your place safe for mom and dad as they age

A lot of housing-trend headlines these days are devoted to adult kids moving back in with their parents, but another multigenerational movement also is on the rise: parents moving in with their grown-up children and their families.

According to a recent Pew Research Center study, 14% of adults living in someone else’s household are a parent of the head of the household, a number that has increased from 7% in 1995. With this growing need to house older adults with other family members all under one roof, AARP—a national nonprofit representing older Americans—has some simple safety steps you can take to get your place ready for mom and dad’s arrival.


AARP offers two levels of recommended safety changes, one lower-cost and one more expensive. Here are immediate low- or no-cost steps you can take to make your home safer for your parents:

  • Add textured, no-slip strips to bathtub and shower surfaces.
  • Apply nonslip wax on floors.
  • Place waterproof seats or chairs in showers.
  • Remove throw rugs, which present slip-and-fall hazards.
  • Remove any wheels on chairs.
  • Replace standard doorknobs with easier-to-use lever handles.
  • Replace standard toilets with raised or high-profile toilets.

AARP’s more expensive recommended modifications, which may require professional help to accomplish, make homes more accessible for older adults’ wheelchair use:

  • Alter showers for walk-in rather than step-over entry.
  • Create zero-threshold entryways.
  • Move light switches down for easy access from wheelchairs or beds.
  • Widen doorways and hallways to accommodate wheelchair width.


AARP notes that, while some of these suggested changes have costs involved, financial assistance may be available:

  • Prescription—In some cases, a doctor’s prescription for a change deemed medically necessary may mean funding coverage.
  • Medicare—While traditional Medicare doesn’t cover most retrofits, some types of Medicare Advantage plans now allow for coverage of some safety devices and improvements.
  • Federal loans and grants—If your family income is low, you live in a rural area, and the home being modified belongs to someone age 62 or older, the renovations may qualify for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Housing Repair Loans and Grants Program.
  • Habitat for Humanity—This nonprofit organization offers a home-preservation program for families with low incomes, and some local affiliates help with accessibility.

In addition, the California Department of Aging contracts with and oversees local Area Agencies on Aging that coordinate a variety of services for older adults, family caregivers, and others, and these state and local agencies may have resources or references available to assist you.

If you or a loved one need help implementing home-safety steps for parents or older individuals, contractors licensed by the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Contractors State License Board are here for you. To find a licensed professional in your area, visit www.cslb.ca.gov.

Related Reading: Foiling the Fall: Reversing a Scary Trend for Seniors

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“Thanks for giving me your cold!”

If you’ve ever had someone say that to you, you know what happens next. You start thinking about 1) if that’s true; and 2) where you got your cold in the first place.

That, in a nutshell, is what contact tracing is all about.

It’s just that right now, thanks to COVID-19, contact tracing is a lot bigger and more complex job than wondering where you got your cold. Contact tracing is being used worldwide to help close the loop on the coronavirus.

It’s like chasing a phantom—you cannot see it, but you know it’s there.

Contact tracing goes back—way back—to the time of the bubonic plague. Even then, physicians were looking for patient zero—and all of the people that person had been in contact with. Contact tracing has been used successfully since that time to help stop plagues such as yellow fever, measles, Ebola, Spanish flu, and syphilis (formerly known as the pox in the Middle Ages).

Right now, in California, Governor Newsom has amassed a workforce of 10,000 tracers—including nearly 140 DCA staff—to help chase down the invisible virus. Think about it; if you could see it, it would be easy to find and way easier to stop. That’s why tracers are calling people and asking for their help. You could be carrying the virus and not even know it; wouldn’t you want to know?

But now, just like in ancient times, people are not cooperating with contact tracers when they call. The questions are too Big Brother-like. Someone—family, friends, coworkers—will find out.

Guess what? It’s all confidential. Riverside County Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari explained in a recent interview with The Sun that personal information is not shared with other governmental agencies, and contact tracers keep identities strictly confidential. She said they are merely trying to find out who may have been exposed so they can warn those people and encourage them to get tested and quarantine themselves. “We would never tell them who the source of the exposure is,” she said.

Here’s the basic contact tracing process from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

  • Interview people with COVID-19 to identify everyone they had close contact with during the time they may have been infectious
  • Notify contacts of their potential exposure
  • Refer contacts for testing
  • Monitor contacts for signs and symptoms of COVID-19
  • Connect contacts with services they might need during the self-quarantine period

Sound simple? It is.

It’s not a conspiracy. It’s not some clandestine operation. You won’t be sent to a FEMA camp.

The next time you get a call from an unknown number, answer it. It may save your life or the life of a loved one or friend. Right now, we are all fighting an invisible phantom and information is the only way to help put a stop to it.

To find out more about contact tracing in California, or to volunteer to be a contact tracer, visit California Connected.








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Life with a mask doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. And while any mask is better than no mask to help contain the spread of COVID-19, all masks are not created equal.

The state’s covid19.ca.gov website puts it bluntly: “When you’re around anyone you don’t live with, you must have a mask covering your nose and mouth.”

The California Department of Public Health advises, “The use of face coverings by everyone can limit the release of infected droplets when talking, coughing, and/or sneezing, as well as reinforce physical distancing.”

Cloth face coverings, rather than medical-grade N95 masks and surgical masks, are recommended for use by the general public by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC’ suggests N-95 and other medical-grade masks be reserved for use by healthcare workers and first responders.

So what are the best (and worst) everyday-use cloth masks?

Bandanas are the least effective. A Florida Atlantic University study found that droplets from a bandana-covered cough traveled more than 3 feet, but holding a double-folded handkerchief over your mouth was much more effective—stopping droplets from going more than 15 inches.

Basic cotton works well. Tightly woven, 100% cotton is efficient. Christopher Zangmeister, a researcher at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, told NPR that microscopic cotton fibers have a more three-dimensional structure than synthetic materials, which makes them more effective at snagging particles.

More layers are better. A mask with more than a single layer is important. Two layers of cotton are good, and three or more are better. The CDC recommends at least three layers.

Fit is key. It’s critical that a cloth mask fits snuggly to your face. If there are gaps where the mask contacts skin, its effectiveness is degraded. Pleated and duckbill-type masks allow more airflow through the mask and less out the sides compared to flat-front face coverings.

Neck gaiters and tubes: good and bad. Covering the nose down to the neck, these work well to solve the air-leakage problem, and are comfortable without having to fuss over ear loops and ties. However, they are typically made out of polyester and/or spandex, both of which are less effective at filtering particles than cotton.

Avoid masks with vents or exhalation valves. These features make breathing easier, but they defeat the purpose of the mask because they release unfiltered air that can contain droplets. An exception is that some vented masks have filters that trap exhaled droplets. The Mayo Clinic has banned the use of vented masks on all of its campuses.

There is a mountain of scientific evidence that masks work to control the spread of COVID-19. A statement on California’s covid19.ca.gov sums it up best: “If each of us wears a mask, everyone is protected.” Visit the site for additional comprehensive guidance on masks and other COVID-19-related information.


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