By Aparna Mele, MD

Mask-wearing during this COVID pandemic is crucial to preventing the spread of infection. But did you know that even something as simple as wearing a mask has distinct instructions on both how to wear it and how to remove it? Remember there is only one correct way to wear them and remove them, based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization?

To put on a mask:

  • First, only touch a clean mask after properly washing your hands. Only wear clean, breathable face masks as re-wearing the same mask could expose you to contaminants.
  • Put the mask over your face holding the ear loops. Your mask should always fit snugly against the sides of your face without open flaps, but should still be easy to breathe through.
  • If your mask has a wired edge which is meant to adhere to the shape of your nose, press down on it over your nose for a more comfortable fit.
  • It is critical that both your mouth and nose are completely covered. Pull your mask up so it fully covers your nose and tug it down so it fully covers your mouth.  If your mask has pleats, they should open downward.
  • After you have put your mask on, do everything you can NOT to touch it again until it’s time to take it off.
  • Wash your hands often and thoroughly even when the mask is on, in case your accidentally touch it

To remove a mask:

  • Only hold it by the earloops. Do not touch the front of the mask, as it could be contaminated
  • Hold the mask away from your face as you remove it
  • If you are not going to wash your mask right away, immediately store it in a clean plastic zip lock bag
  • Pick it up by the ear loops to place it inside the bag, and store the bag in a cool, clean place.
  • Wash your hands immediately after removing the mask.

Beware of these common errors in mask-wearing:

  • Avoid open flaps with large openings around your nose, mouth, and sides of your face. Open “vents” like these cannot effectively protect you from viruses that can enter through those cracks. The mas should be as snug against your face as possible while still allowing you to easily breathe
  • The nose must stay inside the mask. Remember that COVID is airborne and transmitted through respiratory droplets that you can breathe in.
  • Do not periodically take off your mask for “a break” when you are still out in public. It can be hot and claustrophobic behind the mask, but taking it off even briefly can contaminate your mouth and face with any germs that your mask caught!

Please remember that masks are effective only if they cover your mouth, nose and chin. And however tempting it may be, do not touch your mask while you are still needing to wear it as doing that for even a moment could expose your fingers and face to the very virus you’re trying to avoid.  According to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, if we all do it right, we could save 33,000 lives.  What’s the takeaway? We need to ALL take care of EACH OTHER to overcome this contagious and deadly infection.

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