Would you like to help save 45,000 human lives by November? Then all you have to do is wear a mask.

A new model from the University of Washington has projected at least 200,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. by November, but if 95% of Americans wear a mask, that number could drop by 45,000. Unfortunately, over the past few months, America has been divided on the mask issue, as some people do not see it as a life-saving tool, but, maddeningly, as a political prop.

For those who have more willingly adapted to #masklife, you may want to get used to it. Eric Toner of Johns Hopkins recently told the NY Post we could be wearing them for years — "I think that mask wearing and some degree of social distancing, we will be living with — hopefully living with happily — for several years. It’s actually pretty straightforward. If we cover our faces, and both you and anyone you’re interacting with are wearing a mask, the risk of transmission goes way down.”

We asked several health experts about the importance of masks during this pandemic; consider this your Mask 101, and pass it along to those you know who are anti-maskers.

Why do I need to wear this mask?

"There are individuals who are infected with the virus that may not necessarily know they are infected or have symptoms that they don’t attribute to the virus. These individuals can be contagious, and wearing a face covering can diminish their chances of spreading the virus." — Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease doctor working on pandemic policy and emerging infections at Johns Hopkins

How important is it to wear a mask?

"It’s a good idea to wear face coverings (masks) when you can, especially indoors.  Based on what we know to date, transmission of virus seems much easier indoors, because the air is fairly stagnant, making it easier for virus-laden particles (mostly droplets) to find their way to a nearby person and be inhaled (eyes are also a possible route of entry).  There’s still disagreement about whether masks or 6-ft distancing is more important.  If you can do both, it may seem like wearing a belt and suspenders, but it’s prudent.  Outdoors, distance may be the main factor.  There’s nothing magical about the 6-foot rule, it’s empirical but seems to work fairly well in practice. It’s usually just not practical for everyone to be 6 feet apart indoors, so under those conditions, wearing a mask or face covering will help." — Dr. Stephen Morse, epidemiologist at Columbia

"Wearing a mask is important for reducing transmission in the community. Cloth or paper masks do not provide protection to the wearer, but they do reduce risk to others by source control, or by reducing the number of respiratory droplets that the wearer is disseminating into the environment. If everyone wears a mask, then the overall concentration of respiratory droplets in the space they are in will be reduced, and so will the overall risk of transmission. I think of wearing a mask as something I can do out of consideration for others. Also, wearing a mask sets a good example and is something anyone can do to improve public health in their communities. We all benefit when masks are widely adopted." — Dr. Angela Rasmussen, associate research scientist at Columbia's Center for Infection and Immunity

N.B. In a recent episode of The Daily, NY Times reporter Donald McNeil also noted it is important to social distance when outdoors as well. "Sitting right next to somebody else in front of a stage at Mount Rushmore, for example, where the chairs are zip-tied together, is not safe. Masks or no masks, you still really want to try to keep six feet distance."

What kind of face coverings/masks (N95, PM 2.5, cloth) are best to wear right now — particularly as we see reports that the virus may be airborne?

"It’s important to remember that the notion that this virus is 'airborne' is something that is very controversial and is not reflected in the epidemiology. We are seeing close contact transmission being the primary mode and the virus is behaving more like a droplet spread virus than it is measles, which is truly airborne. I don’t believe this changes the type of face covering individuals should wear. The general public should not be wearing N95 masks." — Dr. Amesh Adalja

What if someone claims they can't breathe while wearing a mask?

Dr. Adalja offers this solution: "It’s not just face masks, face shields [also] serve this purpose and are much more palatable for most people to wear."

Additionally, a Myrtle Beach doctor recently posted an experiment regarding masks and oxygen levels, which went viral. Dr. Megan Hall wrote, "I've been seeing a lot of comments on Facebook, or hearing from patients or other people with concerns about detriments to their health regarding wearing a mask," so she took her own oxygen levels and heart rate in different scenarios: not wearing a mask, wearing a surgical mask for 5 minutes, wearing an N95 mask, and wearing both masks simultaneously. Her results? "There is no significant change in my oxygen saturation (or HR) in any scenario. Though maybe inconvenient for some, you can still breathe."

There have been a few articles lately about how masks are the new condoms, do you have any thoughts on this?

"I think we can learn a lot from safer sex educators who, despite a great deal of resistance, were very effective at convincing people that condom use was an important and practical risk reduction measure in terms of getting people to adopt masks. It’s really hard to communicate to people that masks are important, but they are not the ONLY risk reduction measure that people need to take: physical distancing, avoiding crowds, and hand hygiene are also important risk reduction measures. Right now there are myriad different reasons for resistance to mask wearing: pandemic weariness, negative psychological associations with masks, physical discomfort, and mixed messaging. Because the messaging coming from President Trump has been very anti-mask, some of the resistance has become politicized and partisan, and that has undermined trust in public health officials. We need to change our messaging and normalize mask wearing to remove the stigmas that some people associate with masks." — Dr. Angela Rasmussen

The messaging around masks has been all over the place since February — any thoughts on why this was? Do you think it contributes to why we're not always see mask compliance today?

"There are two issues: First, this is a brand new virus to humans, so scientists and public health officials were learning about it in real-time with the rest of the public, and guidance had to change with new evidence as we obtained it. Second, there was no consistent message coming from President Trump, and his tendency to enthusiastically endorse and share unproven claims about treatments, public health measures, and masks have been extremely harmful. This is absolutely the basis for the resistance to mask-wearing today, as well as our mounting case counts and death toll." — Dr. Angela Rasmussen

Please wear a mask when interacting with waitstaff.

Scott Lynch / Gothamist

With the return of outdoor dining, we're seeing unmasked patrons ordering from waitstaff, as well as tables that are often too close together. How unsafe is the unmasked patron making this scenario for waitstaff, and others nearby?

"This is a really tough question, because how does this work in practice? Aside from logistical issues associated with eating or drinking, there are a lot of variables that can affect transmission risk in a given restaurant environment, even outdoors: how crowded is it? How far apart are the tables? How long are the servers spending within close physical proximity to customers? What kind of ventilation is there in the dining area? So the bottom line is we don’t know, and my recommendations are to avoid restaurants with crowded dining areas, wear a mask at minimum whenever you are not seated at the table (such as when going to the bathroom, placing an order at the counter, etc), and wash/sanitize your hands. For waitstaff, I recommend always wearing masks, minimizing the time spent interacting with customers, and practicing rigorous hand hygiene, especially when handling customer dishes. Ideally all restaurant staff should have access to routine testing. It goes without saying that neither customers nor staff should go to a restaurant if they have any symptoms, no matter how minor. Restaurant owners and managers need to ensure their policies support their employees with sick leave in case they can’t come to work." — Dr. Angela Rasmussen

But the economy?

A word from Governor Andrew Cuomo

We asked Governor Andrew Cuomo about masks. In a statement, Cuomo, the first governor is the U.S. to mandate face coverings in response to the pandemic, wrote, "Every person has a responsibility here, social a responsibility and that’s what wearing a mask is all about. Just wear a mask. It's the smart thing to do. It’s also the right thing to do. In all of this complexity, there's still the  right thing and the wrong thing to do. The right thing is to wear a mask because it's not about you. It's about my health. You wear a mask to protect me. I wear a mask to protect you and wearing a mask is not the greatest intrusion.​ The only way forward is if I protect you and you protect me. I wear a mask for you and you wear a mask for me. If you care for me and I care for you, we showed that in the end love does win."

And finally, here's how to wear a mask properly

You must wear the mask over your nose, as well as your mouth. Not only over your mouth. Not around your neck. Not in your hand. Here's how to mask like a pro: