Dos and don’ts of wearing face masks in public

May 01, 2020 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Life

Beginning May 1, 2020 Illinoisans were required to start wearing 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 your 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. Read more about how COVID-19 spreads. 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. 

If we all abide, we’ll all be better protected. Wearing a mask can also help you keep your hands away from your mouth and nose, which can help reduce your own risk.

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.

You can purchase masks or cloth face coverings online or make them at home from household items or common materials. Read the CDC’s recommendations for how to make your own face covering.

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


  • DO wear the mask or cloth face covering whenever you go out in public.
  • DO ensure your mask has multiple layers of tightly woven fabric and that you can breathe through it.
  • DO make sure your mask fits snugly against your face and covers your nose and mouth with no gaps (even a tiny gap could let in particles).
  • DO wash your hands before you put on your mask, every time you touch it 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 your face.
    • Remove the mask slowly and carefully without touching the outside of it or your 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 clean interior side of mask. If you plan to reuse the mask, place it in a bag until you can launder it.
  • 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 you go out in public.
  • DO consider wearing a mask at home if you live and interact with an older adult or someone who is immunocompromised.
  • DO wash your 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 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. You can still get infected by touching your 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, paying attention to where your hands are, and washing your hands often.
  • DON’T go out when you feel sick, have a fever or are coughing or sneezing.

See the CDC’s recommendations for the use of cloth face coverings.

Read CNN Health’s “How to make your own face mask (whether you know how to sew or not).”

At Edward-Elmhurst Health, our top priority is the safety and protection of patients, staff, physicians and the community. For updates on our planning and response efforts as we work to stop the spread of COVID-19, please check

The information in this article may change at any time due to the changing landscape of this pandemic. Read the latest on COVID-19.

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