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Essential health information from local experts

Mask Wearing 101: How to Use & Re-Use a Face Mask

With Sarasota Memorial Nurse Jennifer Sorensen, RN

As medical experts learn more about COVID-19 and the pandemic continues to evolve, so too do guidelines for who should wear a face mask, when and where.

Sarasota Memorial Hospital recently implemented a universal masking policy for staff and providers who come into contact with patients (masks are made available for all staff), to further protect patients, staff and the community. And on April 3, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a recommendation that the general public use cloth masks or face coverings (except infants and young children) when going out, especially in areas where community spread of COVID-19 is high. {Click here for the CDC's suggestions for making cloth masks/face coverings, as well as its FAQ on using and caring for cloth masks/face coverings.}

But face masks are only effective for protection if they are handled, worn, stored and disposed of properly. Used improperly, and the masks actually become vehicles for spreading germs.

If you plan to wear a face mask, it's vital that you learn the right way to use and re-use it. To help with that, Sarasota Memorial nurse Jennifer Sorensen, RN, offers a step-by-step mask-wearing how-to, along with some do's and don'ts.

Face Mask Do's & Don'ts

Before and after handling the mask (to put it on, adjust or take it off), do practice proper hand hygiene. Either wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before and after you touch the mask — EVERY TIME — to reduce cross-contamination risk. The outside of the mask is considered dirty.

Do mark the outside of the mask in some way so you can easily identify which side is the outside of the mask, and handle it accordingly. (At SMH, staff mark the outside with their initials in permanent ink.)

Do keep a paper bag handy for storing the mask every time you take it off; a plastic Ziploc-style baggie is an alternative if a paper bag is not available. Always store a mask in a clean place. Never store it in a purse or pocket. 

Do not touch the outside of your mask while it is on your face. Do not pull your mask below your chin while you're wearing it. Leaving the mask dangling or improperly fitted to your face creates opportunities for cross-contamination.

Mask Use & Re-use How-to

  1. Clean your hands using proper hand hygiene.
  2. Loop elastic over your ears. Pull it down so that it's covering under your chin; secure it to your face by pinching over your nose. Be sure it's on nice and secure.
  3. Before removing the mask, clean your hands.
  4. Remove the mask using the ear loops.
  5. Inspect it to be sure it can be reused. Has it been compromised? Is it wet? Visibly soiled? If it is, go ahead and throw it away, then perform hand hygiene. If the mask is OK to reuse, prepare it for storage. (Next step.)
  6. Fold the mask in half (lengthwise or widthwise), so the outside surfaces are touching each other. Place it carefully into your clean storage area/bag. Seal the bag, if you're using a paper one; if using a plastic baggie, leave it open.
  7. Perform hand hygiene.
  8. To reapply the mask, first perform hand hygiene, then open the mask storage bag.
  9. Grasp the mask by the elastic ear loops to remove it from the bag, then look to see where the outside of the mask is by locating your identifying mark.
  10. Use the ear loops to put it on and tuck it under your chin. Secure it to your face at the bridge of your nose. Perform hand hygiene, and stay safe and healthy.


** Article updated April 4 with the CDC's new guidance on mask wearing for the general public.

Posted: Apr 2, 2020,
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