About Face: Face Mask Use During the COVID-19 Outbreak

Many people continue to ask whether they should be wearing a face mask to filter out germs right now. What types of face mask should we choose is another question. How do we make them, care for them, and properly use them: There are a LOT of questions in our communities because few of us have had to use them in our lifetime. We’ve gleaned some information and offer this as a timely resource to help inform and educate you on this important topic.

Public Health Recommendations: When to put on a mask

To protect yourself and others, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) recommend wearing a mask or cloth face covering in public settings where social distancing is difficult to maintain. Examples may include places like:

  • Grocery stores or pharmacies
  • Drive through or curbside restaurants
  • The clinic or doctor’s office
  • Public transportation—some will not allow you onboard unless you wear a mask
  • Essential businesses where you report to work
  • Any place where close interactions with other people are unavoidable
  • When feeling sick, coughing, or sneezing

Types of masks  

Most of us do not need medical masks, such as the loose-fitting surgical masks or the more snug N95s. With current face mask supplies, nationwide, at record low levels, those should be reserved for medical professionals and first responders who might come in close contact with people who are infected with COVID-19.

How to get your own mask

Instead, you can either purchase simple masks online or create your own at home, even just using simple things you might already have in your wardrobe, like scarves or bandanas, or other household items, like cloth dish towels. These reusable washable items are made from fabric that won’t further stress the materials supply for masks.

Many people are making their own cloth masks, right now.  If you have a sewing machine and fabric, or just a pair of scissors and a clean t-shirt, you can follow several patterns.  They are easily available online so that you can make a supply for you, your family, friends, and those you know who could use their own face mask.  We found both sew and no-sew patterns offered by the CDC, and there are dozens of others available for you to use. 

If you don’t have these skills, you can still do a LOT of good by purchasing masks made by local small businesses. Along with saving medical masks for health care workers, this could potentially help your local economy.

Proper use and care
Whether you are purchasing or making masks, be sure to use materials that will hold up to daily washing and drying. Remember to wash and dry new masks before using them for the first time. Also, remember to have more than one mask for yourself and those in your home. That way they can be laundered daily. This will also be helpful if your mask becomes wet, damaged, or no longer fits and you need to replace it.

There are a few specific things to remember when using your mask:

WASH your hands with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer:

  • BEFORE putting on a mask
  • Immediately AFTER removing it
  • Or, if you TOUCH the mask while using it.

Make sure your mask is snuggly fitted around your mouth and nose. A metal wire sewn or built into the mask will further help it conform to the bridge of your nose.

REPLACE your mask if it gets wet, if it’s damaged from use, or if it no longer fits your face. Disposable masks should be discarded and cloth masks should be laundered if they become damp or wet from any liquid, including spit or mucous.

REMOVE your mask by untying it or by gently pulling off the ear loops. Place it in a bag or bin, secure and away from kids or pets, until it can be laundered.

While in most places, wearing a face mask remains voluntary, it still represents a change in federal guidelines.  Previously the CDC said that if you were otherwise healthy and not caring for someone who was ill, you didn’t need to wear a face mask.   Now that the CDC is recommending people wear face coverings when out in public, we hope this gives you some helpful advice and resources.

Keep in mind that the CDC still emphasizes that wearing a face mask should be done in addition to all the other measures currently recommended for COVID-19 prevention, including social distancing, frequent hand sanitation, and refraining from touching your face.  For further tips and information, please visit our COVID-19 section on this website.  We will offer regular updates that are meant to help our patients and loved ones, our employees, and the community we serve.    

Categories: COVID-19