The Dos and Don’ts of Wearing a Face Mask | MedStar health
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Two young men walk and talk together in an urban environment while wearing masks.

Public health experts and doctors agree that wearing a face mask is one way we can minimize the spread of COVID-19. Here’s what you need to know about the dos and don’ts of wearing a face mask or cloth facial covering.

Experts agree wearing a #FaceMask can minimize the spread of #COVID19 but what’s the proper way to wear and care for one? Alison Wogatske, CRNP, shares the dos and don’ts on the #LiveWellHealthy blog:

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How do face masks prevent COVID-19 from spreading?

COVID-19 is a respiratory virus which means it spreads through droplets that leave the mouth or nose when we talk, sing, yell, sneeze, or cough. So, if you’re standing near someone who is infected with COVID-19, and neither one of you is wearing a face mask, it is highly likely that you will also catch COVID-19.

If the infected person is wearing a face mask, there is less risk that the droplets will spread to someone else because the mask acts as a barrier, if it’s being worn correctly. Since many people who get COVID-19 may experience delayed or very few symptoms, we all should wear a face mask to keep our droplets to ourselves, just to be safe. Even if you’ve tested negative for COVID-19, you should wear a face mask because you could quickly get infected after your test and not know you’re spreading it to those around you.

I wear a mask to protect you from me—not the other way around. This is known as source control. It’s one of the best ways to prevent COVID-19 from spreading, and it’s a small way we can care for each other in an environment where it may otherwise feel like we have very little control.

Wearing a face mask is not a substitute for handwashing.

While wearing a face mask is an important part of minimizing the spread of COVID-19, we still need to prioritize good hand hygiene. Regular and frequent handwashing with warm, soapy water is the best way to protect yourselves and others from any kind of viral infection. Aim to frequently wash your hands for 20 seconds at a time or use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.

When should I wear a face mask?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing a face mask or cloth covering anytime you’re around people who don’t live with you in your home, especially when it’s difficult to stay six feet apart. Here’s what that means.

DO wear a face mask if you are…

  • In a public setting
  • Around other people not in your household
  • Inside an enclosed space where it is difficult to maintain social distance
  • Outside in an area where you cannot stay six feet apart from others
  • Inside your home around a family member who is infected with COVID-19
  • Caring for someone with COVID-19
  • Exercising in close proximity to others

DON’T wear a face mask if you are…

  • Alone or with your household inside a non-public setting (e.g. your home or car)
  • Somewhere you can easily maintain social distancing
  • Eating at a restaurant with dispersed, outdoor seating (but put it on if you leave the table!)
  • The CDC explicitly recommends against face mask wearing in the following populations:
      • Children under the age of 2
      • Those who are unconscious
      • Those unable to safely remove their mask for developmental or physical reasons

Some local and state governments have specific policies in place, so do a quick search to find out what the recommendations are for where you live or are visiting.

Use your best judgment.

There are some instances where you should use your best judgment. For example, my husband and I take our toddler to a park to feed some ducks regularly. It’s a way for all of us to get some fresh air and a change of scenery. While we’re on the walking path to the lake, we often pass other people. So, we wear a mask out of courtesy. Once we get to our spot by the lake, we’re usually the only ones around and can take our masks off.

To determine when and where it’s safe or appropriate to remove your mask, ask yourself, “Is it easy to maintain a distance of six feet between me and others?” If the answer is no, wear a mask.

What’s the proper way to wear and care for a face mask?

Viral particles can still spread to your mask. That’s why it’s important to take proper precautions before, during, and after wearing a face mask to minimize your risk of catching something.


  • Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth
  • Wash your hands before putting a mask on
  • Put the mask on using the straps instead of touching the cloth
  • Remove the mask by the straps
  • Wash your hands after you take it off
  • Store it in a clean, dry container
  • Wash your mask daily in hot water


  • Hold onto the cover when you apply your mask
  • Adjust or touch the mask once it’s on properly
  • Slide it down under your chin
  • Wear it if it’s soiled, wet, ripped, or damaged in any way
  • Share your face mask with someone else

Don’t forget to take other precautions.

Wearing a face mask is a way to be kind to one another as it acts as a barrier to protect others from your secretions. Other important steps you can take to minimize the spread of COIVD-19 include:

  • Frequently washing your hands
  • Limiting unnecessary travel
  • Following quarantine guidelines if you’re in a new place
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with your elbow
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces

We’re all in this together, and if we do our part, we can make a difference!

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