COVID-19: When and How to Wear a Mask

This past week the CDC began recommending the use of cloth face coverings. With this recommendation started the questions from family & friends. What type of mask? When should I wear it? How do I wear it? Any tips? Here are the answers to those many questions!

We will answer all those questions (and more!) below, but first, the most important part of wearing a mask…

You must continue to maintain social distancing even while wearing a mask.

Just because you are wearing a mask does not mean you can visit your friends, hang out with family, or gather in groups. No exceptions.

Now that we have that part covered, let’s move on to the mask questions.

When do I wear a mask?

Hopefully, your state has mandated shelter-in-place orders. This means that only essential travel and business should be happening. Otherwise, you should be at home.

When you do go out, it should only be for a short period of time. This isn’t the time to explore new places or browse around the store.

If you are going out where maintaining a distance of 6 feet would be difficult; wear a mask. This could be running errands, grocery shopping, or doctor visits. When venturing out for these types of activities, have your mask ready to wear.

Walking outside, biking, or running? You do not need to wear a mask during these activities as it’s easier to maintain social distance. Walk in the grass or run on the street (safely!) if others are walking your direction. Be mindful of others as you enjoy some well deserved time outside.

At home, you should be able to walk freely around without worry. The only time a mask should be worn at home is if you are coughing or showing any other signs/symptoms of COVID-19 and there are others in the house that you want to protect from the virus. If this is the case, make sure you are self-isolating in a room and limiting your exposure to others.

Remember, handwashing is key to preventing the spread of this virus, so wash your hands often when at home.

What type of mask do I wear?

Unless you are a healthcare professional, you should not be wearing a respirator, N-95 mask, or surgical masks. Please, if you have these available, donate them to your local hospital system.

For the general public, homemade cloth masks, handkerchiefs, or scarfs should work well, if they are made correctly. There are plenty of YouTube videos and Pinterest suggestions on how to make a mask. Even the CDC even has three handy instructions on making a mask, including new-sew options.

Here are some things to consider when making your mask:

  • Fabric that you can breathe through, preferably cotton or other tight, woven fabric, in multiple layers.
  • Homemade filter inserts for homemade masks are also helpful, such as cotton t-shirt fabric or cotton interfacing.
  • Large enough to cover your nose, mouth and fit snug with minimal gaps
  • Adjustable wire (ie. pipe cleaners, floral wire, crafting wire) is helpful around the nose to keep the mask from inching up on your face and keep from glasses fogging.
  • If making your own mask, have the inside fabric different than the outside fabric so you don’t wear the wrong side towards your face.
  • Elastic ear loops should not be tight enough to cause discomfort behind your ears otherwise you could cause some pretty signification skin irritation
  • Ties can work to secure the mask as long as two are present, one above and one below the ears to keep secure.

Here’s the other catch. Once you put them on, you shouldn’t touch them again. Make sure the mask you wear fits correctly before going out the first time.

How do I put a mask on?

Any mask you wear should cover both the nose and the mouth, and preferably wrap under your chin. The mask should not slip off or need to be readjusted often, otherwise you increase your risk of infection.

Why is your risk increased? Because you are using your hands (that might have the virus or other bacteria on it) and touching close to your face, which is how you transmit the infection.

Here are the steps for putting your mask on:

  • The first step is to wash your hands. If you are in the car, use hand gel or hand wipe.
  • Open up the mask, and either tie or secure the ear loops in place.
  • Adjust the areas around the nose. Then make certain the areas around the lower chin are in place and snug.
  • Once those are in place, do not touch the mask again.

Once the mask is on and secure, keep your hands off it. You’re in the mask until you are in your car about to drive home or back home after finishing your errands.

How do I take a mask off?

Since you have been out and about, your hands are contaminated. Wash or gel your hands well before touching the mask.

When removing the mask, the best way to keep the inside of the mask as clean is to not touch the mask

Loop your fingers behind your ears and unhook one side and then pull the mask around to free the other side.

For masks with ties – untie the bottom first, and when you untie the top lift it away from your face.

If you are in your car, place the mask in a brown paper bag (plastic can trap condensation if the mask is slightly damp). When at home for mask removal, lay it flat to let dry.

How do I care for the mask?

Since you should be wearing a homemade mask, these should be washed after each use. If that isn’t possible, let dry out in the sun, or throw them in the dryer for a bit on high heat.

Do not share masks. Have each family member have their own set of masks to wear and store separately from others.

The is certainly a difficult time for many as we are in our homes, away from our family, friends, daily routine and activities. Even going to the grocery store can give the most stoic individual increased stress or anxiety.

Remember, we will get through this pandemic together. Consider wearing a mask as one additional step that you can do to help protect yourself and protect others.

There is no one way to help prevent catching COVID-19, but taking small steps, such as covering your face, may make a difference in your health or of someone you love.

Stay safe, everyone.

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Nursing Decoded

Nursing decoded was created to share, educate, and collaborate with EVERYONE (patients, caregivers) and aspiring nurses, students, care technicians, nurses, APN's, and all medical providers. We have over 50 years of experience in medicine and have climbed the ladder through this amazing profession. Medicine and nursing is often complicated, exhilarating, exhausting, challenging, loving, and passionate. As Nurse Practitioners, we want to engage and educate people, patients and providers on how to decode, interpret, and navigate our healthcare world through the viewpoint of nursing. Our goal is to provide a consistent, easily accessible resource that clearly outlines, educates and informs on various topics of healthcare to help them interpret, decode and navigate their healthcare world.

This Post Has 38 Comments

  1. Christina Siwik

    This is such wonderful information. Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. Erin

    It was incredibly helpful to know when to wear a mask, and especially the point about not touching it after you put it on. It makes a lot of sense, but I would t have thought of it on my own. Thanks!

  3. Cindy

    Great advice thank you! I am trying the method of going no where so I don’t need one but have them if I need them!

    1. Nursing Decoded

      That’s the best plan! Sometimes you just have to go out – so protect yourself and others!

  4. Debbie

    This is the best info I’ve seen regarding wearing masks. Thank you!

  5. Lisa Manderino

    Yes, we have decided to get some mask even though we do not feel sick. We want to wear them when we do our shopping.

  6. Jennifer

    I’m big on social distancing. It’s been hard at the shops when others are not. At least they have restrictions now of how many can be in a shop including supermarkets at the same time now.

  7. Thank you for the adjustable wire tip – It’s one that I hadn’t heard before and one will be a lifesaver. Thank you for taking the time to write this for us.

    1. Taylor oldman

      This is very timely advice. The right way to wear a mask. Important enough it can save lives. 😷😷😷

  8. Debbi

    This is so helpful, thank you!

  9. Tim

    Very informative about the masks. Makes me glad that I do not live in a city and that my house sits by itself on several acres.

  10. Tricia Snow

    Great information! There are so many who have no idea if they are protected. Thanks!

  11. Angie

    This is helpful information on what to do with the masks to minimize your risk of exposure when wearing one. Especially the tip about washing your hands before touching and taking off the mask. Thank you!

  12. Charlene

    Awesome information! My mom has been busy making masks for everyone in the family since this stay-at-home order starting.

    1. Nursing Decoded

      Awesome! Tell her to keep up the important work! Many hospital systems, long term care, assisted living facilities, and retirement communities are also looking for donations. Keep on sewing!

  13. Hillari

    This article is going to help so many people! Thank you for taking the time to share this.

  14. Suzan | It’s My Sustainable Life

    I’ve made a few for our family for when one has to go out into the world. I used a cut paper clip for securing over the one and works great.

  15. Heather

    Thank you for this. It is extremely helpful.

  16. erin

    Great info, thanks! I was a little confused as at first the recommendation was not to wear them, but now many people are advising to wear them. Thanks for clearing up some things, like when to wear them and how to properly put them on!

    1. Nursing Decoded

      I think part of the delay in the recommendation is it can cause a false sense of security. Also, many people would have gone out and purchased ones that are desperately needed by healthcare professionals. Now I think it’s a great way (if worn properly!) to reduce the spread when going out for essential excursions! Stay well!

  17. Christina

    Thank you so much for this much-needed information. This all sounds like great advice. My mom is sewing a bunch of masks this week!

  18. Angela

    The removal and washing of masks is what I needed to know

    1. Nursing Decoded

      That’s the most important part! Take it off without touching your face and keep the masks clean! Stay well!

  19. Jason Gowin

    I know I say it after every post you make but you are truly helping me keep informed during a whole lot of misinformation and confusing conflicting ideas being put out there!

  20. Amy

    This is so helpful. Thanks for sharing!

  21. Thanks for this information! I haven’t left the house in a while and haven’t had to wear a mask yet, but will likely have to at some point, so it’s good to know how to use them correctly.

  22. Kendra

    Very information. Thanks for spelling it out in easy to follow details.

  23. Chantelle

    This is great! I cringe at some fo the things I see people doing with masks and gloves! I am sharing this on my page so people can learn.

  24. jen

    great information! Thank you for this

  25. Lisa

    Thank you for sharing this… passing this along to my community.

  26. Sandi

    I made about 20 masks for my friends and family. Thank you for the great information.

  27. Jen Towkaniuk

    My county just made it mandatory to wear a mask outside our homes until the end of the month. This is a great post for all the people who don’t know what to do. Who knew that mask wearing and making would need to be general knowledge???

  28. Kathleen

    Hi, thanks for this! I don’t go out anymore but need to share this with those I know who do.

  29. Michele

    I worked in healthcare for 16 years and what I see people doing with masks and gloves lately makes me crazy.

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