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How To Properly And Safely Cover Your Face During Coronavirus Outbreak

Dr. Joelle Donofrio-Ödmann demonstrates how to safely put on and take off a face covering, April 7, 2020.
Matt Hoffman/Zoom
Dr. Joelle Donofrio-Ödmann demonstrates how to safely put on and take off a face covering, April 7, 2020.

Health officials are now recommending people going out in public wear face coverings to slow the spread of coronavirus, but there is a right and a wrong way to shield your face.

"The goal of it is to basically be able to cover your nose and your chin," said Dr. Joelle Donofrio-Ödmann, associate medical director for the city of San Diego. Donofrio-Ödmann is also an assistant professor of medicine at UC San Diego, and is the EMS director at Rady Children's Hospital.

She said wearing face coverings in public is our new reality. Step one, a proper mask should be comfortable.


"You want something that’s breathable," Donofrio-Ödmann said. "So when you fold it over and put it in front of your nose, think, 'Can I breathe?'"

A variety of different fabrics will work, but Donofrio-Ödmann said a potential mask should be able to pass a light test.

"So if you hold it up to a light, can you see through?" she said. "And if it’s one of those materials that’s very, very see-through and you’re seeing a lot of light through, it’s not going to work because if light is getting through it a lot of virus particles — droplets — can also make its way through it."

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How To Properly Cover Your Face During Coronavirus Outbreak

There is a shortage of medical masks for health care workers and officials say the public should not be wearing N95 or surgical masks.


"Going grocery shopping is not doing patient care," Donofrio-Ödmann said. She also reiterated that face coverings are meant to protect others from your germs, and not necessarily to protect you from others.

"This does not take place of social distancing," she said. "Washing your hands, this is an additional step."

While it might be hard, people also need to remember not to touch face coverings.

"You accidentally touched something that had the virus and then you touch the front of your mask that has now been contaminated, so you have to be very careful in how you’re handling your mask," Donofrio-Ödmann said. "It’s not a, 'I’m going to wear it out in public and get it all germed and contaminated then I’m going to throw it in my purse and I’m going to pull it back out and put it over my face. That is how you inappropriately use it."

Safe handling includes avoiding touching the mask while putting it on and taking it off. If you are wearing a reusable mask, like a cloth one, it will need to be kept clean.

"Hot soapy water in the washing machine should work," she said.

If you’re worried about the mask ripping or breaking in the washing machine, Donofrio-Ödmann says to try putting it in a pillowcase.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted this quick and easy video for how to make a face-covering using just a t-shirt.

Donofrio-Ödmann said public health is everyone's responsibility.

"This is for everyone," she said. "It’s for the over 65, the immunocompromised, the kids, just the overall population we’re working together to save lives."

Donofrio-Ödmann said children two and under should probably not wear face coverings. Neither should people who have trouble breathing, or those who might have trouble removing a mask themselves. She recommended "watching your family and others, because it’s going to take a little bit of time to get used to how to properly wear a mask."

How To Properly And Safely Cover Your Face During Coronavirus Outbreak
Listen to this story by Matt Hoffman.