Mask of the mind

Planning your breaths could save your life

Chief Wiggum backs away screaming and shooting at a virus (The Simpsons).
Chief Wiggum has made some tactical errors here. Let’s investigate!
  1. Holding your breath. The virus literally cannot enter (or exit) your lungs. Of course, it’s hard to do this for long.
  2. Gently breathing out. You might still feel the need to breathe, but breathing out is better than breathing in, because again, the virus can’t get into you if you’re not breathing in. You want to breathe out as slowly as possible, because you could be infected, and you don’t want to be breathing out a lot of virus while you’re near others.
  3. Gently breathing out and in. Often you’re close to people for too long to only hold your breath or exhale — in this case, shallow breathing will minimize the amount of virus you can breathe in.
  • Move into more open spaces before you take a large breath in.
  • Take a breath outside an elevator, and hold your breath or only breathe very gently while inside.
  • Don’t exhale strongly or sigh heavily when you’re close to people, as you yourself could be infected, but have little to no symptoms.
  • If you’re standing in a socially distanced line, or need to move into a space where someone just was, wait a few moments for the air to disperse before stepping forward.
  • If you’re walking to the bathroom in a bar or restaurant, hold your breath or minimize your breathing as you pass other groups. If your mask is off, you might press a napkin against your nose and mouth.
  • Moving quickly means you’ll breathe more heavily. Slow down to a casual stroll as you approach a shared space, and give yourself a chance to slow your breathing.
  • Remember that talking loudly also means expelling air from your lungs.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.



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Gareth Idris

Gareth Idris


Systems Engineer in Site Reliability Engineering at Google. Degrees in Biomedical Science and Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering.