How to safely wear a face mask—whether its homemade or surgical

Posted at 4:18 PM, Apr 13, 2020

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently advised people to wear face masks when in public in hopes of preventing people who have COVID-19--but aren't showing any symptoms--from spreading the disease.

Now, people are buying the masks online or getting crafty and making their own at home.

"We have what most people see are our Level 1 surgical masks, which are basically not N95 [masks] but they can prevent from people coughing and spreading the virus,” said Dr. Kenny Banh, a board certified physician in emergency medicine who currently works and teaches at UCSF-Fresno in California. “And then what has boomed, very popular and been the subject of many online posts, is basically making your own homemade masks."

Dr. Banh says there are two important steps to properly use a face mask--whether medical or homemade--so people don't end up contaminating the mask, unintentionally.

First, wash your hands before you put on the mask.

Secondly, don’t touch the outside of your mask.

“The blue part is basically the part that’s exposed to the outside, and that’s the part that’s going to be carrying outside virus particles,” Dr. Banh explained. “So, it's important not to touch the outside part of the mask. How to do that? Well, what we do in the hospital is, and what we recommend people do, is hold on to the straps, so use the straps to take off the mask. And I never touch the outside part of the mask.”

Another major health: don't pull the same mask up and down on your face while wearing it.

If you only have one mask with you and you really need to take it off temporarily, Dr. Banh recommends using the straps to take it off and placing it in a plastic bin or something similar, so that it is not touching anything else. Once you've finished using the mask altogether, place it in the trash. If it's a cloth, homemade mask, put it directly in the washing machine. Then, wash your hands.

"People are hoarding things like Clorox wipes and different cleaners but understand that the virus is very susceptible to this crazy thing called soap and water,” Dr. Banh said. “And that is probably the most important thing."

Some masks come with eye protection. The CDC says covering your eyes is really only necessary when social distancing isn't an option, like in a hospital. It isn't recommended for everyday use. It's important to remember that the mask is to protect the user from infecting others, not the other way around.

"Knowing someone, being friends with someone, not being a stranger, that really isn’t a good stream for knowing if someone has coronavirus,” Dr. Banh said. “Or asking if they’re sick or not."

The CDC estimates up to 25 percent of people are carrying the disease unknowingly, because they aren't showing any symptoms at all.