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Coronavirus: This is the correct way to wear a face mask

Your mask protects others and their mask protects you.

As Minnesota transitions from the stay-at-home order to the stay-safe order and people semi-return to "normal," health officials continue to encourage people to wear cloth face coverings when out in public. And some businesses are requiring them for customers. 

Although facemasks have become a politically divisive issue these days, health experts say they still play a role in protecting others from the wearer's germs, which could help prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Since the virus spreads by respiratory droplets that travel when we talk, cough, sneeze, breathe, etc., face masks – even the homemade ones – can help contain some of those droplets, limiting the potential spread of the virus to others, especially from those who may not know they have the coronavirus.

But that's only when the mask is worn correctly. 

You can buy or make a face mask, but be sure to save the medical masks for healthcare workers, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) says. If you're making your own mask, considering buying fabric online to avoid going out without a mask. And make sure you're making the mask out of two layers of tightly woven 100 percent cotton fabric. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has instructions on how to make your own here.

How to wear your mask correctly 

  • When you're wearing the mask, it should fit snuggly around your mouth and nose – there shouldn't be large gaps between your face and the mask, the World Health Organization (WHO) notes. (A few small gaps are normal, though.)
  • The goal of wearing the mask is to have the air go through the mask, not around it via the gaps that are left by a loose mask, negating the benefits of wearing a mask, autoimmune disease specialist Dr. Brooke Goldner told TODAY
  • For most people, the mask should cover from below your chin to under your eyes in order to form a good seal around the nose and mouth, TODAY said, noting ensuring it fits well will limit readjusting and cross-contamination of the mask.
  • If the mask has a metal wire, pinch it to fit the bridge of your nose, MDH says.
  • Wearing a cloth face mask takes some getting used to, but it shouldn't be uncomfortably tight or make it difficult to breathe.

Still not sure how to wear the mask? The New York Times has this illustrated guide to show you how not to wear a mask.

Wash your hands and wash your masks

Here are a few additional guidelines from MDH regarding best practices when wearing a cloth face covering: 

  • Wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before putting on your mask. 
  • Try not to touch the mask while you're wearing it. If you do touch it, wash your hands or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and don't touch your face before you do so. 
  • When it's time to take off your mask, do not touch the front of it. Remove your mask using the loops that go around your ears. 
  • Immediately wash your hands or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after taking off your mask. 
  • After every use, throw away disposable masks or wash reusable masks. If your mask came with instructions, follow them. The CDC says a washing machine should suffice in cleaning your mask. Otherwise, health officials have said to use warm, soapy water and dry it in a dryer or hang it to dry. 
  • Let the mask fully dry before the next use. Don't wear a damp mask. 

When to wear a mask

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance on April 3, encouraging people to wear "cloth coverings" in places where social distancing is difficult. 

Some businesses, like Costco, Menards and Metro Transit, have heeded this advice and are requiring customers to wear masks. Meanwhile, state health officials have stressed the importance of wearing them whenever you're out in public to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. 

On Monday, the first day of the state's stay-safe order, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said it's a good idea to wear a mask not just in public indoor spaces, but also when you're outside and practicing social distancing – like spending time with friends in a backyard, according to MinnPost. Think of it as an additional precaution.

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