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Publication #FSHN20-29

COVID-19 Preventative Measures: Facemasks and Cloth Face Coverings1

Natalie Seymour, Mary Yavelak, Candice Christian, and Ben Chapman2

Cloth face coverings are being recommended for use by the public, but these are different than medical facemasks. N95 respirators and surgical masks are used by medical personnel and patients in healthcare environments for single use and disposal. These are not necessary for general use by the public and should be preserved for use by medical personnel. Cloth face coverings may help to catch particles expelled by a cough or sneeze and reduce spread of virus by people who may be infected but not showing symptoms.

WHAT IS A MASK OR FACE COVERING DESIGNED TO DO?

  • Face coverings are one form of personal protective equipment (PPE) used in controlling disease transmission.

  • Proper use may prevent the spread of virus from an infected person, or prevent a healthy person from becoming infected.

  • In some cultures, simple cloth face covers are worn by those who suspect they are getting sick to prevent spreading the infection to others. These face covers may help catch particles expelled by a cough or sneeze.

HOW DO MASKS AND CLOTH FACE COVERINGS WORK?

  • Not all face coverings are equally effective. Masks and cloth face coverings are made of different materials depending on intended use.

  • Facemasks are tested for their ability to trap viruses in respiratory droplets moving at high velocity, such as in a cough or sneeze.

HOW SHOULD FACE COVERINGS BE HANDLED?

  • Masks and cloth face coverings should be handled assuming they are contaminated with the virus causing COVID-19.

  • Face coverings should be removed without touching the inside. They should be immediately placed with dirty laundry, or stored in a plastic bag until they can be properly cleaned.

  • Wash your hands after handling a used face covering or use hand sanitizer if hand washing is not an option. If possible, wash your face after removing a face covering.

  • Cloth face coverings should be washed after each use. Follow CDC guidelines at go.ncsu.edu/cdclaundry.

ESSENTIAL COMPONENTS

Figure 1. 

HOW SHOULD FACE COVERINGS BE WORN?

  • Cloth face coverings can be uncomfortable to wear. A proper fit is tight over the nose, mouth and chin.

    • Shaving is not necessary for cloth face coverings or surgical masks.

  • Cloth face coverings can help reduce disease transmission, but wearing one does not provide absolute protection.

  • According to CDC, wear cloth face coverings whenever interacting with the public or when caring for someone who is sick or may be infected.

  • It is not necessary to wear a face covering while at home or outside for exercise.

Face coverings can be an effective means of slowing the spread of the infectious agent for many respiratory illnesses and may help slow the spread of COVID-19. Wearing a face covering does NOT provide complete protection and does not replace other ways of slowing virus spread such as:

  • Staying away from public places and group gatherings

  • Washing hands and using hand sanitizer often

  • Avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth

  • Practicing physical distancing

For more info, visit: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov

(800) 232-4636

Footnotes

1.

This document is FSHN20-29, one of a series of the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date April 2020. Visit the EDIS website at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu for the currently supported version of this publication. © NCSU. Used with permission.

2.

Natalie Seymour, MS, Extension associate; Mary Yavelak, MS, Extension associate; Candice Christian, MPH, Extension associate; and Ben Chapman, professor, food safety specialist; NC State University Extension. UF Contact: Michelle Danyluk, professor, Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center, Lake Alfred, FL | mddanyluk@ufl.edu | (863) 956-8654.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.