Correct Usage of a Face Mask

People wearing a face mask feel a sense of protection and assurance when in public. But what are the realities of that mask preventing exposure or transmission of certain infectious diseases. If in fact, there is a measure of prevention from infectious diseases what is the proper method for putting them on, removing them and their disposal? Read on and learn.
How Does a 3-ply Surgical Mask Work?
Absorption of moisture and sweat from exhaled air is provided at the inner layer The middle layer acts as filtration for certain pathogens While the outer layer is the repellent for body fluids, blood and water

One misconception is the masks are absolute prevention.  When in fact, the masks do not form an absolute seal around the nose and mouth area and cannot filter small airborne particles transmission caused by coughing and sneezing.

What are Disposable Surgical Face Masks?
Surgical face masks are rectangular shaped loose-fitting masks with elastic bands, draw strings or ties. They sit in place by tying them behind one’s head or looping behind the ears. Many have strips of metal which provide pinching for around the nose area. Transmission of large particle microorganisms from sneezes, splashes, sprays and droplet may be blocked by properly worn three-ply surgical masks. Reduction of hand-to-face contact may also be reduced by its use.
When Should You Wear a Mask?
Recommendations are provided by the World Health Organization regarding wearing of surgical masks. Best practices are when you have respiratory symptoms or ailments including fever and coughs or you are within 6 feet of someone who exhibits the same. Critical to note a surgical mask is a preventive measure but not a panacea and cannot prevent contraction of the novel coronavirus, also known as SAR-CoV-2. As discussed earlier, surgical masks do not filter out small airborne particles or fit snug enough to prevent leakage. They are adept though of trapping larger respiratory droplets.
Method for Putting on a Face Mask
  • First, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20-30 seconds while rubbing your hands thoroughly.
  • Inspect the mask for any rips, tears or broken loops.
  • The colored side of the mask is worn on the outside.
  • For masks with the metallic nose strip make sure it’s placed against the nose bridge and at the top.
  • For ear loop masks, hold it by the loops and place one over each ear.
  • For tie string masks, tie the upper strings in a secure bow by the crown of your head and bottom near the nape of the neck.
  • For elastic band masks, position one band against the crown of your head and the bottom band against the nape of your neck.
  • For masks with metal nose strips pinch and press to mold your face.
  • Mask bottoms should be placed over mouth and chin and fit snugly.
  • Once in position avoid touching masks.
  • Replace when they become damp or soiled.
What to Avoid When Wearing Mask
  • “Disposable” masks are single-use and should not be reused
  • Over ear dangling or hanging around the neck are not suggested
  • Do not crisscross the ties
  • As there are potentially pathogens on the mask avoid any touching, or if necessary, wash and hand sanitize first
Removal and Discarding Surgical Masks
  • Any time you are touching your face wash your hands or hand sanitize first
  • As the mask may contain contaminants, avoid touching and handle by bands or loop ties only
  • Masks should always be discarded in covered trash bins
  • Wash your hands or hand sanitize again, after mask removal
N95 Respirators
N95 respirators fit snugly and are form-fitting reducing the opportunity for airborne particle leakage. N95 can more effectively filter smaller airborne particles. Fit is the key to effectiveness and healthcare professionals are fit tested annually. When compared to a traditional surgical mask, a properly fitted N95 usually provides improved pathogen filtration. While N95 provide improved effectiveness, they can still only optimally block 95 percent of smaller test particles identified as (0.3 microns). Although, a 2016 systematic review revealed no significant difference between surgical masks and N95 when used by healthcare professionals for prevention of acute respiratory infections in clinical settings. The concern of the Food and Drug Administration is the belief that mask wearing alone is sufficient, when in fact social distancing and frequent hand washing is critical.
Best Practices to Limit Infection
  • Frequent hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • When mobile and limited access to soap and water use hand sanitizers
  • Try not to touch your face
  • Social distancing is critical regardless of wearing masks
  • Avoid public exposure as much as possible
The Takeaway
While surgical masks are of benefit, they are not a panacea. People should not be lulled into a false sense of security. Though, protecting against the larger particles is better than no prevention at all, be cautious. Remember, to wear and dispose of properly. As Benjamin Franklin once said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. For more information visit the Center for Disease Control website at For more information visit the Center for Disease Control website at
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