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Bill Clinton's mask mistake: Are men more guilty of 'mask-slipping'?

A mask must be worn over the nose and mouth to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Image: US-POLITICS-INAUGURATION
Former President Bill Clinton arrives for the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th U.S. President on Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.CAROLINE BREHMAN / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

It was the first U.S. presidential inauguration to feature all guests wearing masks and many eyes were on Bill Clinton’s nose.

There it was — sometimes left uncovered as his mask slipped down his face, defying guidelines to cover both the mouth and the nose to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts also had moments where his nose was exposed.

Former President George W. Bush, left, greets Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts before the inauguration.Rob Carr / Getty Images

Former President George W. Bush at one point pulled down his mask below his lips all together.

Bush pulls down his mask, while Clinton's face covering is back in proper place.KEVIN LAMARQUE / Reuters

Other prominent men have been photographed wearing their face coverings incorrectly in recent months, including Director of the National Economic Council Larry Kudlow.

Director of the National Economic Council Larry Kudlow speaks to reporters outside the White House on October 21, 2020.OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP via Getty Images

That led The New York Times to ask on Wednesday: “Is mask-slipping the new manspreading?”

Manspreading, of course, is the tendency of men to sit with their legs spread open, taking up two or three seats on a subway, bus or other public places.

James Gorman, the author of the piece, acknowledged some women let their masks slip, too, but recalled seeing a lot more “man slippage” on TV, in grocery stores and on the street.

“Something about some men seems to make it difficult to keep that mask where it should be,” Gorman wrote.

“I am left with the conclusion that man slippage is like manspreading. We — some of us — do it because we are, well, men. And you know what men are like.”

Other observers made the connection, too: “Bill Clinton wears his mask like every man in a suburban grocery store,” Jezebel proclaimed.

Experts called it an interesting observation, but not one that’s been formally studied. Prominent women have been photographed with their masks slipping as well.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi let her mask slip below her nose during a press conference on Oct. 9, 2020.Xinhua News Agency / Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images

Dr. Lou Ann Bruno-Murtha, division chief of infectious diseases at Cambridge Health Alliance in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said it’s common to see people wearing masks below their noses, though she hasn’t noticed one sex doing it more than the other.

There’s nothing about a man’s face that would lead to more mask slipping, she said. The problem is usually a poor fit — perhaps a cloth mask lacking the flexible metal strip that allows the face covering to stay in place.

“I think the masks just slide off because they're not fitting the individual properly. I don't think it's intentional. I don't think people are thinking, ‘Oh, I'm just going to wear a mask over my mouth,’” Bruno-Murtha told TODAY.

“Our patients need to be educated and reminded, and I just don't think they realize it.”

Now that more people are wearing face coverings in the first place — after inconsistent messaging around the value of masks — the next hurdle is to get them to mask correctly, she noted.

The mask needs to cover both the nose and mouth — if it’s not, it's not providing protection to you or to others.

“There are higher viral loads in the nose than there are in the mouth. So it's very important that the nose be covered,” Bruno-Murtha said. That means a person with an uncovered nose could be shedding the new coronavirus or breathing it in.

But having just the nose covered and not the mouth is not safe for the wearer or the people around him or her either, she added.

So many patients show up wearing their masks incorrectly at Bruno-Murtha's health system that doctors have been told to offer a piece of surgical tape and ask them to tape the covering to the bridge of their nose if the mask keeps slipping off.

“If you find you're needing to readjust your mask often, then it's not fitting you properly and you probably need to seek out the different style mask,” Bruno-Murtha said.

She advised people who come across “half-maskers” in a grocery store or other places to move away from them and keep at least 6 feet of distance — or even double it.