How to make a mask and make it work

It’s 2020, and everyone knows what PPE (personal protective equipment) is now. But do we know how to use it correctly? And are we doing more harm than good if we don’t use PPE the right way?

“If you decide to start wearing a mask, you should know that it takes some getting used to,” said Dr. Emily Volk, University Health System Senior Vice President of Clinical Services. “A mask can be hot and uncomfortable – and fog your glasses if you wear them. But pulling it up and down defeats the purpose of wearing it.”

Do masks protect against coronavirus?

Personal protective equipment, like barrier masks, may be a layer of defense against this frightening new virus. And if everyone wears a mask in public, they can get some protection from potentially contagious large respiratory droplets that are coughed or sneezed around them. However, people will frequently don a mask so that it does not completely cover their nose and mouth. Or, they will touch and handle their mask often.

“When wearing a face mask, you should remember to cover your entire nose and mouth, which means that the face mask should extend underneath your chin,” Dr. Volk said.

And if you think it’s tough to keep your hands off your face already, it’s going to be even harder once you’ve got a mask covering it.

Pulling a mask on and off or fidgeting with it will lessen its effectiveness.

There are times when you need to remove the mask, such as when you’re eating. But remember, “Fiddling with your mask could also contaminate it. And always remove a mask by the ear loops or the tie — never the part that covers your face,” Dr. Volk said.

As for pulling it down to talk or just breathe freely, “When a face mask is on your chin, it is not effective,” Dr. Volk added.

When wearing a fabric mask, it’s important to clean it well between uses. It’s best to machine launder it daily in hot water with detergent, using hand sanitizer or washing your hands before and after handling the mask. Also remember to handle the mask from behind by the straps to avoid touching the front of the mask before and after use.

The best way to stop coronavirus is through social distancing

Even correctly worn, Dr. Volk warns that masks should not lull people into a false sense of security. It’s only one of an array of practices people should take to protect themselves and others, including social distancing.

“Please remember that even if you are wearing a face mask, you should exercise the same caution as if you were not wearing one,” she said. “Stay at least 6 feet away from other people, avoid group gatherings, go outside only for exercise and essential errands, and wash your hands when you return home.”

The best homemade mask pattern around

Along with questions about how to wear a mask, many have questions about how to make a good mask. Our University Health surgeons, nurses and engineers have designed and tested new mask patterns that you can try out. With recommendations that members of the public wear masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, many other talented and generous people have begun making fabric masks at home. But remember, it’s important to get it right so that you can better protect yourself and others from novel coronavirus.

Learn more about the mask design University Health System’s Tommye Austin, senior vice president and chief nurse executive, created that blocks more than 99% of airborne particles.

The infectious disease specialists at University Health System are on the forefront of innovative treatments and work closely with other specialists to provide you with expert medical care.