Dos and don'ts of wearing face masks in public

May 01, 2020

Illinois remains under a stay-at-home order until at least the end of May. This means people should stay home unless you need to leave for essential business.

Beginning May 1, 2020, Illinoisans are also required to wear a face mask or cloth face covering in public — another step to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, while visiting the doctor, and traveling on public transportation.

The virus can spread via respiratory droplets between people interacting in close proximity, such as coughing, sneezing or talking. Wearing a face covering in public can help protect others if you are infected with the virus and don’t know it, since you can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms.

Experts emphasize that medical-grade masks (N95 respirators or surgical masks), which are in short supply, be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical responders who are exposed to the virus on a daily basis.

Although cloth masks don’t provide the same level of protection as medical-grade masks, they still act as physical barriers against viral droplets.

Masks or cloth face coverings can be purchased online or made at home from household items or common materials.

Here are some dos and don’ts of wearing face masks/cloth face coverings:


  • DO wear the mask or cloth face covering when out in public.
  • DO ensure the mask has multiple layers of tightly woven fabric and that it’s possible to breathe through it.
  • DO make sure the mask fits snugly against the face and covers the nose and mouth with no gaps (even a tiny gap could let in particles).
  • DO wash hands before putting on a mask, every time it’s touched and immediately after removing it.
  • DO know the proper way to put on and remove the mask.To put it on, grasp the mask and pinch it at the ear loops or grasp the upper ties. For ear-loop style masks, secure ear loops behind the ears. For tie back style masks, secure upper ties first behind your head, then secure lower ties behind your head. Always put the same side of a reused mask against the face. Remove the mask slowly and carefully without touching the outside of it or the eyes, nose or mouth. Remove ear loop masks by holding the ear loops. Remove tie back masks by untying lower ties first and upper ties last; ensure the ties don’t fall into the clean interior side of mask. If the mask will be reused, place it in a bag until it can be laundered.
  • DO continue to practice good social distancing by staying at home, avoiding contact with others, and staying at least 6 feet away from others when out in public.
  • DO consider wearing a mask at home if an older adult or someone who is immunocompromised lives in the same house.
  • DO wash the cloth mask after each use with regular detergent and warm/hot water, then dry it thoroughly in the dryer.


  • DON’T put a mask on a young child under age 2 or anyone who has trouble breathing or is unconscious, incapacitated or unable to remove the cloth face covering without assistance.
  • DON’T use medical-grade masks, which should be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical responders per guidance from the CDC.
  • DON’T push your mask down on your chin to eat or drink. Remove it completely, perform hand hygiene, and then put it back on snugly when finished.
  • DON’T wear a mask over just the mouth. Make sure the mask covers nose and mouth.
  • DON’T wear a mask that hasn’t been cleaned thoroughly, or that is soiled, torn, saturated, damaged or has any distortions in shape or form.
  • DON’T let the mask provide a false sense of security. People can still get infected by touching their eyes (which aren’t covered by a face mask).
  • DON’T neglect to continue taking other preventive measures, including staying 6 feet away from others and washing hands often.
  • DON’T go out when feeling sick or with a fever, coughing or sneezing.

For updates on COVID-19, check