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How to put on a surgical mask

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Surgical masks help prevent the spread of germs by restricting their movement through the air, whether from coughing, sneezing, or the transmission of nearly undetectable moisture droplets. But an improperly placed, loose-fitting mask can be no protection at all. Here are the proper steps to take when putting on a surgical mask.

  1. Wash your hands

Always make sure your hands are thoroughly cleaned with soap and water. Sterilizing fluid doesn’t hurt, but it’s not as effective as the classic combination of soap and water for killing germs and hand-carried pathogens. Scrub your hands under a tap for 20 to 30 seconds and dry them thoroughly.

  1. Find the top and the front of the mask

Make sure you’re properly oriented with what part of the mask goes where. The edge of the mask that’s more flexible and pliable is the top part that goes over your nose. In most surgical masks, the front is generally colored. The plainer side is the one that goes towards your face, and the more colorful side goes outward.

  1. Place on your head according to what type of mask you’re wearing.

Surgical masks come in a variety of binding mechanisms: elastic bands, ear loops, or ties. Think of proper surgical mask placement as a “top-down” process: start with securing it over the top of your head, then work your way down:

  • Elastic bands: Pick up your mask by the nosepiece or by the top. Let the bands dangle freely. Bring your mask up to the level of your nose. Take the top strap first and pull it over your head so it rests on the crown. Then pull the bottom strap over so it rests on the back of your neck.
  • Earloops: Pick up the mask by the ear loops. Place each loop over your ears.
  • Ties: Bring your mask to the level of the nose. Start with the top ties—place them over your head and tie them into a bow in the back of your head. You’ll do the same with the bottom ties, but after the following step.
  1. Shape the mask around your nose.

The part of your mask that fits over your nose should have a “moldable” metal strip so that it conforms to your nose’s shape. Pinch and adjust the strip so it fits snugly over your nose.

If you’re wearing a surgical mask with ties, you can secure the bottom set after shaping the mask to fit your nose. Wrap the bottom ties around the back of your neck and bind them with a bow.

  1. Pull the bottom of the mask over your mouth and chin.

For the final placement step, place your mask over the bottom of your face so that your mouth and chin are covered up as much as possible. After this step, your mask should feel snug and secure, but not so tight as to restrict normal breathing.

Once your mask is on your face, don’t touch the front of it. If it becomes soiled, wet or damp, immediately dispose of it and replace it with a new one.

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