Why Face Masks Matter – And How to Wear Them

As of April 1, we are supposed to wear face masks when grocery shopping to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Covering your nose and mouth with a mask will not protect you from viral infection, but if you are infected and asymptomatic, you may unwittingly infect others.

A face mask will prevent droplets carrying the virus from escaping from while you talk, cough or sneeze. Masks may also prevent viral contamination of the person wearing them as they encounter droplets from other infected people. 

There are many types of masks that you can use for this purpose. The masks used by health care workers prevent them from becoming infected themselves, but these are not necessary for the general public. To prevent COVID-19 spread, you only need to use simple masks like those in hospitals or even the ones that you can buy at the hardware store, which are usually plentiful. However, the initial measures to contain COVID-19 caused a run on masks, and now there are shortages. The scarcity of masks, along with new protective measures, are now causing people to fear that they will not have them when they need them to go shopping.

The good news is that masks come in all shapes, sizes and materials. Ideally, it is best to wear a mask only once, but with few available masks, many of us will reuse our masks. Luckily, there are many inexpensive DIY videos and step-by-step instructions available online to make masks out of stuff you can find in your own homes. Some DIY masks require a sewing machine, but many do not need sewing, some only need a stapler.

For single-use masks, there are “How To” videos showing you how to make them out of paper towels or coffee filters, and for reusable cloth masks, you can use old clothes, scarves, cloth napkins, and even brassieres. Several designs also include pockets for you to add replaceable filters. For those of you who want to protect yourself as well as others, there are DIY mask instructions online made from HEPA filter vacuum cleaner bags (links below).

How to wear them

To properly wear a mask, you should wash your hands with soap and water or rub them with hand sanitizer. Then place the mask over your nose and mouth, making sure that there are no gaps between your face and the mask. Don’t touch the mask while you are wearing it unless you wash or sanitize your hands and be sure to use another one in case the one you are wearing becomes wet.

To prevent self-contamination, remove the mask from behind your ears without touching the front or inside of it and throw it out. Then rewash or sanitize your hands. If you plan to re-use your mask, store it between use on paper towels or in a paper bag to dry. If your mask is cloth, it is best to wash it after each use and frequently wash it in the washing machine. Be sure that your mask is dry before re-using it again. Replace your mask if it is dirty or damaged.

A mask is only one of several preventative measures that add hand washing, staying home, not touching your face and regularly cleaning surfaces in your home.

[ORF has also compiled an FAQ about masks in Austria, in German.]

Suggested links & videos

No sew masks

Fast emergency DIY masks

DIY t-shirt mask

Easy DIY design for sewing masks

DIY mask with filter

DIY Hepa filter vacuum cleaner bag masks

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Dr. Michelle Epstein
Michelle Epstein is a medical doctor graduated from the University of Alberta in Canada, who has specialised in Internal Medicine at the University of British Columbia and Allergy and Clinical Immunology at Yale University. Since 2004, she has been a Lab Leader at the Medical University of Vienna’s Division of Immunology.

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