Should you wear a face mask when you go out? Here’s what the experts say

Should you be wearing a mask when you leave your home? In this Berlin Report, we tell you what the experts advise.

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash


Update: As of April 29, you are required to shield your mouth and nose with a cloth covering both while on public transport and in stores in Berlin. Additional guidelines on mask wear are listed at the bottom of this page. 

If you’re confused these days about whether or not to wear a mask when you leave your home, you’re not alone. That’s because health experts have revised their original guidance in recent weeks.

Dr. Lothar Wieler from the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s disease prevention authority, told reporters last week that it’s crucial to differentiate between three types of masks.

In a press conference, he said filtering facepiece (FFP) masks should be left for medical professionals who are caring for sick patients, as it’s crucial they not get infected.

Instead, the masks now gaining in popularity and that professionals say may offer some protection if used properly, are simple cloth coverings also called “community” masks.

These can be homemade and improvised from material like cotton and should cover the nose and mouth.

But Chancellor Angela Merkel warned last week these masks are hardly failproof and handling one incorrectly could be “even more fatal” than not wearing one at all.

She added: “If you think wearing a mask means you can forget about social distancing – you’re wrong. Absolutely wrong.”

The Robert Koch Institute says textile masks may catch your respiratory droplets – those tiny particles you exhale, sneeze or cough out – and keep them from spreading to others. So by wearing a mask, you’re protecting others from you – especially if you are one of the infected, but asymptomatic people.

The institute says what isn’t clear is whether wearing a mask protects you from others.

Dr. Wieler says these masks shouldn’t give you a “false sense of security” and must be handled properly. That means: not touching the mask while wearing it and not wearing it for too long. When you remove it, you should take care to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, and you should also wash the mask immediately.

Officials in the eastern city of Jena were the first in Germany to mandate people wear masks in public, and they likely won’t be the last.

Bavaria state premier Markus Söder told Bayerischer Rundfunk in an interview last week: “We must prepare people for life with the pandemic, which of course includes the increased wearing of masks.”

Meanwhile, the Berlin government asked some institutions for help in making community masks, which we explore in part two of this Berlin Report.


Graphic updated April 29, 2020:


For up-to-date information on what you should be doing to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, check our fact sheet. 

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