Medical masks, also known as surgical masks, are mainly used by health care professionals to protect themselves and others from the spread of airborne infectious diseases, bodily fluids and particulate matter. During a pandemic like COVID-19, health departments may also recommend that members of the public wear surgical masks to protect themselves. These masks are generally designed to completely cover the mouth and nose.
Surgical masks are designed with material that can block large-particle droplets, splashes, sprays, and splatter — all of which may contain harmful viruses or bacteria.
A recent study during a non-pandemic situation found that over 50% of adults did not wear face mask according to the adhered standard practice and over 90% did not perform hand hygiene before or after putting on a face mask (Lee et al., 2020). It is essential that the mask is on securely and properly fitted to ensure effectiveness.
Follow Steps to Properly Put on a Surgical Mask:
1. Clean your hands. Before touching a clean medical mask, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, in line with the 5 moments of hand hygiene.
- Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds.
- Always use a clean paper towel to dry hands, then place used paper towel into the trash bin.
2. Check the medical mask for defects. Take a new medical mask, inspect it to ensure it has no defects, tears, holes and is dry. If any defects are present, throw it away and take another one.
3. Find the top side of the mask. The top of the masks will have a bendable, but stiff, an edge that can be moulded around your nose. Ensure this bendable side is facing upwards before applying the mask to your face.
4. Check the pleats to ensure the mask is right-side up. The pleats on the outside point down, which allows fluids to flow down the mask, to keep fluids flowing away from you. The pleats inside point up which are supposed to catch fluids when you cough or sneeze, so you do not contaminate people around you.
5. Place the mask on your face. Medical Masks comes in different forms. Ear Loops — The Artemis Ear Loop Mask has 2 ear loops on each end. These loops are normally made of an elastic material so they can be stretched. Pick up this type of mask by the loops, put 1 loop around one ear and then put the other loop around your other ear.
- Ear Loops — The Artemis Ear Loop Mask has 2 ear loops on each end. These loops are normally made of an elastic material so they can be stretched. Pick up this type of mask by the loops, put 1 loop around one ear and then put the other loop around your other ear.
- Ties or Straps — The Artemis and Athena Ties Back masks come with upper and lower ties or straps. Pick up the mask by the upper ties, place the ties around the back of your head and tie to secure. Tie the top band of the mask first before tying the bottom bands.
6. Adjust the nose piece to fit your nose. Use your index finger and thumb to pinch the bendable portion of the top edge of the mask around the bridge of your nose. Make sure to readjust mask ties when necessary to ensure a snug fit.
7. Fit the mask to your face and under your chin. Once the mask is completely secured, adjust it to ensure it covers your mouth, nose and chin.
8. Adjust the mask to your face without leaving gaps on the sides
How to Properly Remove Your Surgical Mask:
1. Always wash your hands first. Ensure your hands are thoroughly cleaned with soap and water or hand sanitiser by rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Ensure hands are not visibly soiled and pat them dry before removing the mask.
2. Remove the mask carefully. Do not touch the front portion of the mask which may be contaminated.
- Ear Loops — Hold the ear loops and remove them from around each ear.
- Ties/Straps — Untie the bottom straps first, then untie top straps. Remove mask while holding onto top ties.
Note: Untying the bottom first reduces the risk of cross-contamination. If you untie the top first, the mask will fall down to your clothing/skin, contaminating it. If you untie the bottom first and then the top slowly and carefully, you should be able to remove it without the mask landing on your clothing/skin, hence less likelihood of further contamination.
3. Dispose of the mask safely. Medical masks are designed to only be used once. Therefore when you take the mask off, place it into a closed trash bin immediately.
4. Wash hands again. Once you’ve disposed of the mask safely, wash your hands once more to ensure they’re clean and didn’t get contaminated by touching the dirty mask.
- Remember that masks alone cannot protect you from COVID-19. Maintain at least 1.5-metre distance from others and wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, even while wearing a mask.
- Always perform hand hygiene before and after putting on or taking off the mask, and dispose of the mask if it becomes damaged or soiled.
- A surgical mask cannot protect you against fumes or hazardous gases. Surgical masks are designed to stop the transport of germs. To avoid breathing in fumes, you must use respirators or dust masks.
- Putting something between the mask and your face (e.g. tissue) does not make the mask last longer.
- Germs will still be on the outside of the mask. And when you breathe or go near someone sick, it is most likely to infect the thing you put inside.
Disease Prevention and Control, San Francisco Department of Public Health. 2020. How To Put On And Remove A Face Mask – Disease Prevention And Control, San Francisco Department Of Public Health. [online] Available at: <https://www.sfcdcp.org/communicable-disease/healthy-habits/how-to-put-on-and-remove-a-face-mask/> [Accessed 6 July 2020].
Healthline. 2020. How To Wear A Face Mask To Reduce Virus Transmission. [online] Available at: <https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-wear-a-face-mask> [Accessed 6 July 2020].
Lee, L., Lam, E., Chan, C., Chan, S., Chiu, M., Chong, W., Chu, K., Hon, M., Kwan, L., Tsang, K., Tsoi, S. and Wu, C., 2020. Practice and technique of using face mask amongst adults in the community: a cross-sectional descriptive study. BMC Public Health, 20(1).