How to wear a face mask

Avoid these common mistakes and properly wear a face covering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

OK, Atlanta.

We’ve seen some of you out there, walking in grocery store aisles, heading for salons and nail shops, or taking an afternoon stroll, with your face masks on.

Honestly, many of you aren’t wearing them at all during this pandemic, which is your right. But the new coronavirus is ferocious and insidious, which is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Surgeon General urge everyone to wear a mask when they go out. Some people are wearing them properly, but many are not. That’s a problem.

» COMPLETE COVERAGE: Coronavirus in Georgia

At this point, 46 states and territories either “strongly encourage,” recommend or require people to wear face coverings while in public, especially when social distancing might be hard to maintain. In some states, kids as young as two years old are required to wear them. Epidemiologists have said cloth masks might not prevent you from getting the virus, but if you are sick or asymptomatic, they can help prevent infecting others.

» NEW: The AJC's redesigned COVID-19 data dashboard

But, how will these precautions work if masks aren’t covering the bottom half of people’s faces, or if they’re wearing face masks around their necks, or worse, carrying them instead in their hands?

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has created this illustrated guide, showing you how to don a face covering — the safe way — based on recommendations from the CDC and other health care professionals.

And sorry, that probably means you should consider shaving your beard.


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Don’t wear a covering below your nose, which leaves you vulnerable to droplets expelled when an infected person talks, sneezes or coughs. If wearing a homemade or cloth mask, make sure you can breathe through it comfortably, but also ensure there’s a good seal along the bridge of your nose and cheekbones.


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Mind the gap

Some masks, like disposable surgeon-style masks, are really meant to be used once. Wearing more than that can cause gaps on the sides. They also don’t lend themselves to cleaning. Better to get a cloth mask with multiple layers and snug fitting sides that you can machine wash after each use.


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Really dude?

At this point, you’re not even wearing a mask. In a report published in March in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that if an infected person sneezes or coughs, larger droplets might fall within 6 feet, but smaller residue from the droplets, called aerosols, can travel up to 27 feet and linger in the air for several minutes. You might not be able to pull your mask up fast enough to prevent yourself from inhaling them.


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Anytime you pull your mask below your nose and mouth then pull it back up, you’re more likely to touch your face and increase your chances of getting infected.


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The long game

Bottom line: you can’t get a good seal around your chin with a mask if you’ve got a lumberjack beard. And while some men have resorted to bandannas or other cloth coverings that they fold and tie into place, any covering that doesn’t tightly cover the bottom of your face can leave others vulnerable if you’re infected.


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The right way

What you want is a covering that ideally conforms to the bridge of your nose and along your cheekbones. If you wear glasses and they begin to fog once you put your mask on, you may have gaps. Your mask should seal along your chin and cheeks, and you should be able to breathe freely. Make sure the cloth you use is at least double-layered. And remember not to touch your mouth, eyes or nose as you remove the mask. Wash your hands immediately after you take it off, and wash the mask, if it’s cloth, with soap and water after each use.