Advise Me

Mask Up: Wear This, Not That to Protect Others

“It’s not you, it’s me … but it could be you too.”

Although you never want to be on the receiving end of this statement while in a relationship, when it comes to COVID-19, it is something important to consider. We know now that we can unknowingly spread the virus from one person to another and that wearing a face covering, combined with other preventive measures, offers the most effective protection against the virus.

Over the last few months, you’ve heard and seen a lot about the importance of wearing face masks. Whether it’s from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization or the countless Facebook and Instagram ads from companies selling them, it’s clear masks are a hot topic.

But with so many options out there, you may wonder what type of mask is best.

Good news! We break down the three primary types of face masks and how to use them properly. Plus, we’ve included a quick cheat sheet with helpful masking tips.

Three Types of Face Masks

Generally, face masks fall into three types:

  • Cloth face coverings
  • Procedural/Surgical masks
  • N95 respirators

Cloth Face Coverings

According to the CDC, cloth masks help slow the spread of COVID-19 and help keep people who may unknowingly have the virus from transmitting it to others. Whether from t-shirts or bandanas, for those who are “sew” happy to make their own, cloth masks are the simplest and cheapest to make. Additionally, out of all the choices, they are the best for the environment too! If sewing is not your thing, never fear, there are a variety of cloth face coverings available for purchase online as well.

Important Tips

If you wear cloth face coverings, remember these important steps:

  • Make sure it fits securely and snugly around your nose and mouth.
  • Remove face coverings carefully by holding onto the straps or ties. Do not touch the front of the mask.
  • Wash your hands after handling or touching a used face covering.
  • Wash your cloth mask after each use.
  • And, always follow preventive measures (i.e., social distancing and staying home when sick).

Procedural/Surgical Masks

While not as environmentally friendly and pricier than cloth face coverings, procedural or surgical masks are another acceptable choice when it comes to choosing a mask. These loose-fitting masks are fluid resistant (when worn properly) and provide some protection against larger respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes. Their primary purpose is preventing the wearer (that’s you) from spreading infectious droplets to others (those around you).

Important Tips

If you wear a procedural/surgical mask, remember these important steps:

  • Make sure your mask covers your nose and mouth and that the blue (or colored) side of the mask faces out away from your face. The white side of the mask is absorbent, and the outside of the mask is waterproof, so the mask can absorb and keep any droplets you expel from a cough or sneeze.
  • Do not touch the front of the mask.
  • Remove procedural/surgical masks carefully and dispose in the trash. Do not reuse as these masks break down and become less effective after wearing.
  • Wash your hands after handling or touching a used procedural/surgical mask.
  • And, always follow preventive measures (i.e., social distancing and staying home when sick).

N95 Respirators

N95 respirators or masks, are designed to achieve a very close facial fit and very efficient filtration of airborne particles.

The CDC does not recommend that the general public wear N95 respirators to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19, as these are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders.

Healthcare workers who wear them undergo a fit test to find the right make, model and size to ensure a tight seal.

While these masks sound too good to be true, think again. Some N95 masks have one-way exhalation valves that release unfiltered air when the wearer breathes out. This means this mask doesn’t prevent you from spreading the virus. For this reason, many places – including hospitals – have banned patients and visitors from wearing them.

Important Tips

If you have a non-ventilated N95 mask, remember these important steps:

  • Make sure the mask securely fits and covers your mouth and nose. A poor seal can lead to leakage, lowering the respirator’s effectiveness.
  • Remove the N95 mask carefully and dispose in the trash after one use.
  • Wash your hands after handling or touching the mask.
  • And, always follow preventive measures (i.e., social distancing and staying home when sick).


The CDC recommends cloth face coverings in public settings where it is difficult to maintain social distancing. Cloth masks are easy to make and the most affordable option. Reserve surgical masks and N95 respirators for healthcare workers and medical first responders.

And remember: It may not be them, it may be you … but it could be you both. So, mask up and do your part to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Mask Safety 101 Infographic

COVID-19 Infectious Disease Safety

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