Just because they are out there doesn’t mean they are safe to use.
mask illustration with straw

This year may very well be remembered as the year of the mask. They come in many colors, shapes, sizes and patterns, and should be seen everywhere right now (here's one nice way to respond to anti-maskers). As the coronavirus pandemic continues to be dealt with and demand for masks increases across the country, many people are getting creative with their designs. One eye-catching trend lately are masks with holes near the mouth that allow you to eat or drink without removing your mask. But is this actually effective in helping slow the spread of disease? We talked to infectious disease expert and professor of global health and epidemiology at George Mason University, Amira Albert Roess, Ph.D., M.P.H., to learn more.

In short, a mask with a hole of any kind is not an effective mask. "Wearing a face mask with a hole for eating and drinking defeats its purpose, which is to reduce transmission of the virus," states Roess. The World Health Organization states that masks should be worn to cover your nose, mouth and chin while being secured in place with elastic loops or ties. They also advise that your nose or mouth should not be exposed at any time for effective mask usage. Lastly, they recommend against touching your mask. All of these things directly conflict with a mask with a hole for eating or drinking. With these masks, your mouth is exposed and, even if there is a flap or zipper, you have to touch your mask to open or close it. "Imagine that the virus moves the way that smoke moves," adds Roess. "The 'smoke' can enter and exit the mouth through the hole, tear or any break in the mask."

Though this may be a cute trend, it seems like a mask with a hole for eating or drinking is one to skip. Roess concludes, "As soon as you create holes in the mask—this includes holes for drinking or eating—you are compromising the integrity of the face mask. We all have to wear well-made masks to protect ourselves and each other." Lucky for us all, the CDC has guidance on how to make a reusable cloth mask with things you probably already have on hand. For more, check out Coronavirus & Your Well-Being.

The situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to change quickly; it's possible that information or data has changed since publication. While EatingWell is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations by using the CDC, WHO and their local public health department as resources.