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How to put on and take off a face mask

Associate editor – news/health

Sunday, May 17, 2020

WITH it becoming more apparent that Jamaicans will have to adjust to living with COVID-19, some of the measures now being used to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus will likely become the norm.

One such measure is the wearing of face masks in public spaces.

Though the practice has seemingly evolved into a fashion statement for some, it remains one of the primary protective measures recommended by the Jamaican Government as people move about the public space.

However, there could be danger ahead if certain steps are not followed when putting on and taking off face masks.

Nurse Charmaine O'Reilly, the in-service education officer at the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH), is responsible for training more than 800 hospital staff who are at the forefront of the COVID-19 fight, in the donning and doffing of personal protective equipment, including masks.

She is also part of the hospital's 24-hour response team for its Accident & Emergency Department, so we checked in with her to guide us on how to avoid exposure to possible infection while handling masks.

“Masks can be classified as disposable or reusable,” Nurse O'Reilly said in an interview with the Jamaica Observer. “Disposable masks would be a surgical mask or an N95 respirator, and a reusable mask is your cloth or fabric mask.”

While stressing the level of protection from infection provided by wearing face masks, Nurse O'Reilly walked us through the proper way to put on, remove, and care for face masks.


How to put on a face mask

1. Cleanse your hands

When you are putting on a mask, you must first wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

2. Locate the top of the mask

If the mask has a metal strip, place the metal strip over your nose bridge (top of your nose). If there is no metal strip, centre the top of the mask over your nose bridge.

3. Secure the mask

Then you will have to secure the mask by placing elastics around your ears, or over your head and neck, or tying strings or straps behind your head and neck.

“To make sure the mask is worn properly, cover your nose, mouth, and chin with it,” Nurse O'Reilly advised, adding that when removing masks, individuals should be careful not to touch their eyes, nose, and mouth.


How to remove a face mask

1. Take the elastics from around your ears, or take the elastics from over your head and neck, or untie the strings or straps from behind your head and neck.

2. If mask is disposable, place it in a closed bin. If mask is reusable, place it in a disposable bag or paper, for example a Ziploc-type bag, brown paper bag, or two plies of hand towel for further use or washing.

3. Then cleanse hands with soap and water or hand sanitiser.

O'Reilly, who has been a nurse for 17 years and also holds a master's degree in education, also shared some do's and don'ts when wearing a face mask. She said, too, that reusable masks are to be washed with soap and water and placed to dry daily.



1. Wash hands before putting on mask and after taking off mask.

2. The mask, which should include multiple layers of fabric, must be worn over your nose, mouth, and chin.

3. The mask should fit snugly, but comfortably, against the side of the face.

4. The mask should be secured with ties or ear loops.

5. The mask should allow for breathing without restriction.

6. The mask should be able to be washed and dried without damage or change to the shape.

7. If the mask becomes moist, it should be changed.



1. Do not touch the front of your mask with your hand while wearing or taking it off. If this happens, cleanse hands immediately with soap and water or hand sanitiser.

2. Do not touch your eyes, nose, and mouth when removing mask.

3. Do not wear mask on head, forehead, under your chin, or neck.

4. Do not use mask on children under two years old, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious or unable to remove the mask for themselves.


Nurse O'Reilly said, too, that the type of fabric that should be used to make reusable masks or cloth masks should be tightly woven cotton, such as quilting fabric or cotton sheet.