How To Properly Wear A Face Mask, According To A Doctor

Photo: Snezhana Ryzhkova/Getty Images.
With the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) now saying cloth masks can help protect the people around you when you are out in public (save the N95s for the people who need it, the healthcare workers), that means we all need to take a course in how exactly to wear face masks most effectively.

We asked an ER doctor to walk us through how to wear a face mask orother type of covering. He gave us a five-point plan.

1. Wash your hands. First thing's first: Yourhands need to be squeaky clean before you put on the mask, so wash andsanitize, says Darien Sutton, MD, an emergencyphysician at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. "This decreases the riskof contaminating yourself when you put a mask on." Along the same lines:Never touch the inside of your face covering as you're putting it on. Thatcould get bacteria on the very area you're trying to keep clean. It's basicallylike biting your nails.

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2. Cover from nose to chin. People often focus oncovering their mouth. But you want to make sure your nose is tucked securelyunder the mask, and the material fits tightly under the chin too, Dr. Suttonsays. Once it's on, take a few deep breaths in and out. You should be able tobreathe through the material, but you shouldn't be able to detect any major airleaks. If, as you breathe in, you can tell that you're getting a ton of airthrough the bottom of your mask, tie it a little tighter in that area.

3. Remove it correctly. Taking off your mask isthe trickiest part, explains Dr. Sutton. The most common mistake people make ispeeling the mask off from the front. That's an easy way to contaminateyourself; you're basically just touching your face, the number one thing you'renot supposed to do during this pandemic.

"Removal should always be from the back of your head," saysDr. Sutton. So, if you're taking off a surgical face mask, use the elasticstraps around your head as a way of removal. To pull off a makeshift mask, suchas a scarf or bandana, the same idea applies: Untie, unclip, or untuck from theback of your head.

4. Wash it. If you're using a maskmade of reusable fabric, make sure you're washing it after each use, especiallyif you find yourself sneezing and coughing. PHAC recommends washing your"outside clothes" or any fabrics using the warmest appropriate watersetting and to make sure to dry your items completely.

5. Wear it proudly. If you're not used towearing them, donning a surgical mask in publicmay feel alarmist, especially if you'reasymptomatic. But just like you can feel good about your efforts to socialdistance as a way to flatten the curve, you can feel good about your choice tomask up. “[Face masks] are a new mechanism of solidarity,” Dr. Sutton says.“You’re acting in the public’s interest to prevent spreading this virus.”

COVID-19 has beendeclared a global pandemic. Go to the Public Health Agency of Canadawebsite for the latestinformation on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.

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