It appears there’s some confusion about what to do when you’re wearing a mask and you need to sneeze. As Matt Karolian noted on Twitter, a man at the recent impeachment vote pulled down his mask to sneeze into his hand, which is exactly the opposite of what you are supposed to do.
The purpose of wearing your mask is to keep your personal respiratory droplets out of the air that other people may breathe. If you need to sneeze—a phenomenon that expels a large goddamn number of respiratory droplets—here is what you need to do:
Keep the mask on
Sneeze into your elbow or a tissue (through the mask)
If the inside of your mask is now unbearably gross, change your damn mask.
We can all handle this. I believe in us. Carry a change of mask if you are worried about soaking your face in sneeze juice for the rest of the day. (It’s good to have extras on hand anyway.)
And while we’re at it, don’t take off your mask to speak. You can talk through it just fine, even if you’re speaking to a crowd (with or without a microphone). The droplets don’t stop coming out of your mouth just because people are listening to you. In fact, talking, and especially shouting, produces lots of droplets, and the mask’s job is to keep them contained. Just let the mask do its job.
Beth is Lifehacker's Senior Health Editor. She has written about health and science for over a decade, including two books: Outbreak! and Genetics 101. Her Wilks score is 302.