New Jersey beaches are officially allowed to reopen. According to the order from Gov. Phil Murphy, you have to practice social distancing if you go. It also recommends, but does not order, that you wear a face covering when staying six feet from others is difficult.

“Please, if you’re going out to our parks or elsewhere, please practice social distancing,” Murphy said during a news conference. "Please wear something covering your face. Folks, let’s please keep with this together because it’s the only way we’re going to see this through for the long term.”

It’s worth — as we’ve pointed out before — thinking twice before you even decide to go.

With beaches and boardwalks already seeing crowds, there will be a lot of instances where you should wear a mask. (Summer 2020: when mask tan lines became cool.) Before you head down the Shore, you’ll want to strategize ways to make sure that mask-wearing is both achievable and effective. Rest assured, you won’t be alone. Beach patrols and lifeguards will be wearing face coverings, too.

Here’s what to know if you decide to go.

Do I have to wear a mask the entire time?

The answer may depend on the beach. If you choose a popular spot, you’ll need to use your mask more.

“If it’s completely empty, then you’re fine to take it off,” says Dr. Eric Sachinwalla, medical director of Infection Prevention Control for Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia. “But if there’s a lot of people walking around, out of precaution, you should be wearing the mask as much as possible, even if your towel is six feet from others.”

Crowded or not, masks should always be kept on hand for situations when you might encounter others. If you’re headed to the bathroom, boardwalk, or local pizza shop, put on your mask. You can’t predict when someone may walk by who’s coughing or sneezing.

If I take off my mask, can I reuse it when heading to the boardwalk?

If you’re going for a swim, you’re not going to wear a mask — nor should you. But what happens when you dry off and need to hit the bathroom? You’ll need to re-mask, and you can do so with the same mask you were wearing earlier if you remain extra mindful.

For starters, don’t let your mask get wet or dirty. Plan ahead so that you have a safe place to store it. Choose a container that allows for air circulation. A paper bag is preferable to a Ziploc. Although paper bags won’t protect your mask from water, they’re more breathable. This lets moisture — such as what accumulates from breathing — evaporate when you’re not using the mask.

Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before removing your mask, and avoid touching the front. Minimizing contact with the outside of the mask is important to avoid contamination of both your hands and the mask. Make note of which side was originally against your face and which goes on the outside. When reusing, it’s crucial not to flip it the wrong way. Wash your hands again after you take it off.

If any part of this process gets messed up, don’t reuse the mask.

(Left to Right) Samantha Davis, Nicole Davis, and Geri Schmid walk on the beach in Sea Isle City, N.J., May 14th, 2020.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
(Left to Right) Samantha Davis, Nicole Davis, and Geri Schmid walk on the beach in Sea Isle City, N.J., May 14th, 2020.

What happens if I get sunscreen on my mask? How many should I bring?

If you can, bring at least two masks.

“It’s never a bad idea to have a backup,” says Sachinwalla. “Once they get wet or soiled, you want to wear a new mask, and that’s likely to happen at the beach.”

Don’t panic if you get a small dab of sunscreen on your mask. It won’t ruin it. (The same applies for makeup.) But if your mask starts to feel icky with grease and sweat, it’s time to swap it for a clean one. A damp and dirty mask will make it harder to breathe, which isn’t fun or safe.

What should I do if I want to take a sip of water?

Thirsty? Whatever you do, don’t cut a straw hole in your mask.

“Anything that interferes with the integrity of the mask makes it less able to do its job of blocking secretions,” says Sachinwalla. “Also, if you’re pushing a straw through the outside, then the part that’s directly going into your mouth gets contaminated — seems like a very bad idea.”

Before drinking, remove your mask carefully and completely. Refrain from pushing it down around your neck or up onto your forehead — two actions that make it easy for potentially contaminated surfaces to come into contact with your eyes, nose, and mouth.

If my mask gets wet and I don’t have a backup, should I continue to wear it?

The Pennsylvania Department of Health says that masks should not be worn when they become damp.

“A wet cloth mask is going to be hard to breathe through, which isn’t safe, so at that point you should probably head home,” says Sachinwalla.

If you accidentally touch your mask with dirty hands, and you don’t have a spare, the advice is similar. There’s a chance your hands touched something that was contaminated by the virus, which will defeat the purpose of your mask.

It’s hot. How am I supposed to wear a mask in the summer?

Sunscreen, sweat, sand ... and a mask? Whew.

We get it. It’s not an ideal scenario, but neither is any part of a pandemic, and the quicker we work to fight the spread of this virus, the quicker it’ll be over. Even as temperatures rise, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends wearing face masks.

To help with comfort, choose a material that’s breathable. Cotton isn’t a moisture-wicking material, but it will let in more air than synthetic fabrics like polyester. Make sure the mask fits you well, and again, have a backup. As you sweat, you may need to switch out your mask for a dry one.

Take breaks when you can, such as on your drive, and consider making your outings shorter right now. You’ll also want to stay mindful of how your face is feeling.

“In hot weather, you will have a lot of moisture under there, and the skin can break down a little more,” Carrie L. Kovarik, an associate professor of dermatology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, told my colleague Nick Vadala. “Moisture from breath or heat builds up, and you can get a rash.”

If your skin becomes irritated, Kovarik recommends applying a noncomedogenic (non-pore-blocking) moisturizer after mask usage and avoiding products like petroleum jelly.

People fill the boardwalk in Ocean City while enjoying the weather and the beach on Saturday May, 16, 2020. Ocean City is one of few beaches doing a “dry run” to test “capacity management” this weekend in preparation for Memorial Day.
TYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer
People fill the boardwalk in Ocean City while enjoying the weather and the beach on Saturday May, 16, 2020. Ocean City is one of few beaches doing a “dry run” to test “capacity management” this weekend in preparation for Memorial Day.

I heard it’s safer to be outside. Is the beach really that risky?

If you’re going to leave home, experts say it’s better to be outside. Outdoor environments provide more air circulation, which makes it easier for coronavirus particles to diffuse through the air. Social distancing is also easier.

But hanging out outside, especially in crowded areas, doesn’t come without risk.

“Being outside doesn’t make everything magically disappear,” says Sachinwalla. “If there’s a large number of people, there’s still higher risk of potentially being around someone who’s sick and doesn’t know it or who doesn’t care.”

Again, masks are important if you’re going to be in contact with other people. And that’s highly probable at the Shore. Just like sunscreen (also uncomfortable, but important), masks are meant to protect us. More so, they help protect others, and this is something we’re all in together.