Video: Emergency Care Doctor Explains When to Wear a Face Mask, How to Do It the Right Way

To slow the transmission of COVID-19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that people use cloth face coverings in public settings where social distancing is difficult to maintain, such as a grocery store. The new recommendations come as cases continue to rise and experts say that as many as 20 percent to 50 percent of those infected may show no symptoms but still spread the disease.

On the streets of many U.S. cities, people are sporting a hodgepodge of face coverings, from old N95 respirators found in the garage to carefully stitched cloth masks to casually wrapped scarves. As more people try to heed the CDC’s advice, many are uncertain about how to properly wear a face mask and how exactly they help.

We asked UC San Francisco emergency care physician Jeanne Noble, MD, to explain why everyone should wear a face mask and to demonstrate step-by-step how to safely don and doff masks of different types.  

Wearing a face covering does not replace social distancing or handwashing, but it’s an additional way to help slow the spread and flatten the curve. It’s essential to wash your hands before and after putting on and taking off any face mask.

It’s also important to remember that the CDC recommends cloth face coverings for the general public. N95 respirators, which can filter out particles as small as 0.3 microns, and surgical masks, made of non-woven fabric to block droplets, are in short supply and are best reserved for health care settings. If you have new N95 respirators or surgical masks, please consider donating them.