Why Some Cities And Counties Are Banning Face Masks With Valves
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Why Some Cities And Counties Are Banning Face Masks With Valves

May 07, 2023

Face masks with valves are being banned in some cities and states.

Are you planning a getaway to another state or region this summer? Perhaps you’re taking a road trip or renting an RV. Maybe you’re going to a visit to a national or state park, campground or other outdoorsy venue where social distancing is achievable. If you’re like most travelers, you will pack your pandemic necessities — face masks, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer and so on — for your trip.

You should know that face masks with valves are being banned in a growing number of places, from much of California to the Colorado cities of Denver and Boulder.

The non-compliant masks have a one-way valve that allows your exhaled air to pass through a small round or square filter disk attached to the front of the mask.

At first blush, valve masks may seem technologically superior to plain old cloth or disposable surgical masks, but in fact they fall short. Designed to ease exhalation and decrease humidity for the wearer, they do not block transmission of COVID-19 because they allow exhaled air and droplets to escape.

The whole point of the CDC guidelines on wearing a face covering is to keep your exhaled air and droplets to yourself. "Your cloth face covering protects them. Their cloth face covering protects you," says one CDC graphic.

"It's important for everyone to practice social distancing (staying at least 6 feet away from other people) and wear cloth face coverings in public settings," according to the CDC. "Cloth face coverings provide an extra layer to help prevent the respiratory droplets from traveling in the air and onto other people." In other words, face masks with valves defeat the purpose of wearing a mask in the first place.

Consequently, a growing number of cities and counties are drawing a hard line against valve masks.

In mid-April, San Francisco and six surrounding Bay Area counties stipulated that valve masks do not comply with the law requiring face mask wearing. Under a subheading "What Not to Use," San Francisco's directive lists "masks that have a one-way valve designed for easier breathing (the valves are often a raised plastic disk about the size of a quarter, on the front or side of the mask). Holes or one-way valves allow droplets out of the mask, putting others nearby at risk."

Over the ensuing weeks, the no-valve law has spread to many parts of California, covering a vast area of Northern California and its top recreational attractions such as the Muir Woods National Monument and Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County; Redwood National and State Parks in Humboldt County, Coyote Point Recreation Area in San Mateo County; Crown Memorial State Beach in Alameda County; as well as attractions in Monterey County and Sacramento County.

Along Central California's Central Coast, Santa Barbara County has adopted the no-valve rule. And in the remote Sierra Nevada, valves are verboten whether you’re visiting the Plumas National Forest in Plumas County or Donner Memorial State Park and Elephant Butte Lake State Park in Sierra County.

Outside California, the anti-valve movement is spreading in Colorado. Denver's face covering order deems valve masks non-compliant, as do similar orders in Boulder County and Gilpin County, and in smaller cities such as Northglenn.

It would not be surprising to see more cities, counties and perhaps states adopt the anti-valve provision. If you’re planning a trip, it's a good idea to visit the health department website in your destination for specific guidance before leaving home.