Using Masks Safely and Effectively

April 2, 2020

The information below is being shared from Private Health Management's website.

COVID-19 spreads from person to person via small respiratory droplets. These droplets are spread when a person with the virus exhales, coughs, or sneezes. You can contract this virus if you breathe in these droplets. Respiratory droplets containing the virus can also land on various objects or surfaces. When you touch a contaminated object or surface and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth this can lead to an infection.

​Cloth or paper masks, or any face covering if masks are not available, are better than nothing if used properly because they can help prevent the spread of droplets and remind individuals to avoid touching their faces. There are many resources available online (see below) to show you how to make your own mask. Masks should always be used in combination with frequent handwashing, disinfecting and social distancing. This is especially important because we now know that infected individuals may be pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic and can still spread COVID-19. If everyone is wearing a mask, it reduces any stigma and prevents possible unknowing transmission of droplets — people keep their droplets to themselves.

​These basic guidelines can help ensure masks are used safely and effectively:

How to put on a mask

Always read the product instructions on how to put on a mask. If instructions for putting on the mask are not available, follow these steps below:

  • Always start with clean hands, washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or alternatively by using alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Remove a mask from its package taking care not to touch the inside of the mask
  • Check for any obvious tears or holes in either side of the mask
  • Determine which side of the mask is the top. The side of the mask that has a stiff bendable edge is the top and is meant to mold to the shape of your nose.

Follow the instructions below for the type of mask you are using:

  • Face mask with ear loops: Hold the mask by the ear loops. Place a loop around each ear.
  • Face mask with ties: Bring the mask to your nose level and place the ties over the crown of your head and secure with a bow. Then take the bottom ties, one in each hand, and secure with a bow at the nape of your neck. Pull the bottom of the mask over your mouth and chin.
  • Face mask with bands: Hold the mask in your hand with the nosepiece or top of the mask at fingertips, allowing the headbands to hang freely below hands. Bring the mask to your nose level and pull the top strap over your head so that it rests over the crown of your head. Pull the bottom strap over your head so that it rests at the nape of your neck. Mold or pinch the stiff edge to the shape of your nose.
  • N95 Respirators: Should be fit-tested. A poor seal can lead to leakage, lowering the respirator’s effectiveness.​

How to wear a mask for maximum effectiveness

  • Cover your mouth and nose with the mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask. Check to be sure that facial hair does not interfere with the proper fit.
  • Avoid touching the outside of the mask while using it; if you do, clean your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp or damaged and do not re-use single-use masks. For example, surgical masks are disposable. Don’t reuse them.

How to remove and dispose of a single-use mask

Always read the product instructions on how to remove a mask. If instructions for removing the mask are not available, then follow these steps below:

  • Clean your hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer before touching the mask
  • Avoid touching the front of the mask because it may be contaminated. Only touch the ear loops/ties/band.
  • Discard the mask immediately in a closed bin
  • Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer​

How to store a reusable mask

Special care should be taken to ensure that the mask removal and replacement be done in a deliberate manner.

  • Carefully fold the mask so that the outer surface is held inward and against itself to reduce contact with the outer surface during storage
  • The folded mask can be stored between uses in a clean sealable paper bag or breathable container

How to clean a mask

  • Check instructions with manufactured masks for cleaning instructions
  • Generally, paper masks and all surgical masks are intended to be single use only when used for this purpose
  • If you must extend the use of a disposable mask because of a shortage:
  • Do not touch the inside of the mask and store the mask by itself in a bag or breathable container
  • Consider double masking or covering with an outside barrier like a home-made mask or bandana
  • Line with a tissue or other material to absorb moisture and replace frequently
  • Dispose of the mask immediately if it becomes wet or soiled
  • Wash reusable cloth masks with soap and the hottest water possible for the fabric type. Place in dryer 80ºC/190ºF for 5 minutes.​

For more information on how use masks effectively, including information about different types of masks, click here.