Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most consistent public health requests we’ve heard is for everyone to wear masks while out in public. Thankfully, many Americans are stepping up, according to recent polls. Unfortunately, wearing a mask incorrectly can completely undermine the protection everyone is seeking.

Whether you’re still on the fence about wearing a mask or want to ensure you wear it correctly, let’s look at some common mask mistakes to avoid.

Not Wearing a Mask

Though the majority of Americans now wear masks when out in public, there is a still a pocket of debate about the efficacy of masks when out and about. The first and biggest mistake people may make with mask-wearing is not wearing one at all! CDC guidelines encourage social distancing, using sanitizer, and wearing a mask. Mask-wearing may play a huge part in how fast we return to normalcy, because studies show that masks are effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19. How do they do this?

Masks prevent you from spreading this sickness by stopping respiratory droplets from being released into the air. By wearing a mask, you are protecting your loved ones and your community from potentially catching COVID-19. Remember, you may not think you have coronavirus, but symptoms can be mild, or you may have none at all. In either case, you may be highly contagious and not know it. In the face of a global pandemic, it’s best to do what we can to protect our communities. If this isn’t enough of a reason to wear a mask for you, don’t forget that there is evidence that masks can prevent some particles from entering your own airways, which can lower your own chances of catching COVID.

Common Face Mask Mistakes

Wearing a mask is one thing, but if you’re wearing it incorrectly, that won’t help anyone. Let’s look at a few of the most common mistakes when wearing a mask, and why they don’t work.

Leaving Your Nose Out

This probably the most common and biggest mistake people make when wearing a mask. You’ve likely seen others doing it at the grocery store or out and about. But wearing your mask below your nose, makes wearing the mask virtually useless. The cells in your nose are easier to infect than other respiratory areas, so you’re essentially leaving the most vulnerable part of yourself exposed. At the same time, if you have COVID-19, the virus can be spread by breathing out of your nose. If it’s not covered by a mask, you are contaminating the entire area around you.

Not Covering Your Chin

Another common mistake involves exposing your chin. You’ll commonly find this in situations where the mask is too small, only covering the mouth and nose. While the two most important areas are covered, your chin being exposed leaves an area near your mouth that can become contaminated. An exposed chin can also cause the mask to bunch up, leaving gaps in the mask where your (possibly infected) respiratory droplets can escape.

Pulling the Mask Beneath the Chin

A second chin-related mask mistake is when the mask is pulled down around the chin. This is usually done for short periods, when someone should be wearing a mask but wanted to smell something or started feeling hot. Similar to leaving your nose exposed (because it leaves your nose and mouth exposed), pulling the mask around your chin completely invalidates the protections offered by the mask. Not only are you no longer covering up your mouth and nose, allowing you to accidentally spread COVID, you’re leaving both open to environmental contaminants.

Wearing a Mask That’s Too Loose

We hinted at this one earlier with not covering your chin, but if the mask is too loose, it’s not protecting you, or others, as well as it could. Any protection is better than none at all, but if your mask is too large and leaving large gaps on the side, there’s still the chance you could spread COVID to others. Luckily, if your mask is a little too loose, there are a few ways to fix it that have gone viral online.

Messing With the Mask

Once your mask is on, try not to touch it. If there are any contaminants on your hands, they’ll get on the mask. At the same time, you could accidentally expose areas of your face or contaminate your face underneath the mask. If you’re going out in public and won’t have a chance to disinfect your hands, it’s best to get your mask comfortably placed on your face, and then leave it alone. If you must adjust your mask, make sure you disinfect your hands before touching it.

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Wearing a mask, and wearing it properly, are both very important in slowing down and containing the COVID-19 pandemic. Wearing the mask correctly is simple. Make sure it fits snuggly on your face, covering your chin and going over the tip of your nose. If for some reason, you’re unable to wear a mask, whether it’s for emotional or physical reasons, see if someone else can go out for you or find a makeshift mask or face shield that works for you. Right now, it’s important we all do our part to help limit and prevent the spread of COVID-19 by following the CDC’s guidelines so we can return to normalcy as soon as it’s safe.